The Commons public accounts committee made the recommendation after finding there were 459 nursing vacancies across all neonatal units in 2007, representing almost three posts per unit.
The Department of Health acted to establish the taskforce following discussion at one of the committee’s hearings. Evidence gathered by the committee was published last week in a highly critical report.
According to the report, the taskforce should work with strategic health authorities to address nurse shortages and develop recruitment and retention initiatives.
‘As part of its work programme, the neonatal taskforce will develop minimum quality standards for neonatal care,’ a DH spokesperson said. NT understands the group is due to meet for the first time next month.
PAC chairperson Edward Leigh said: ‘Constraints in capacity mean that the DH is still struggling to meet the demand for neonatal services which has risen year on year. The serious shortages of neonatal nurses must be addressed. The decision to establish a neonatal taskforce is an important development.’
Tina Pollard, chairperson of the Neonatal Nurses Association, added: ‘This is finally the recognition of a problem that has been going on for years. We have been trying to get people to take it seriously but finally there will be a joined-up effort to address the issues.’
In its report, the committee concluded that a major reorganisation of NHS neonatal services five years ago – England’s 180 units were grouped into 23 networks – had done little to reduce regional variations in mortality rates of babies born prematurely.
Moreover, its neonatal services investigation revealed that in 2006 England would have needed an extra 2,285 neonatal nurses to meet levels recommended by the British Association of Perinatal Medicine. BAPM recommends the ratio for nurses to babies in intensive care to be one-to-one but only 24% of units said they could meet the target.
The report also highlighted insufficient specialist post-registration training and noted that nurses had difficulty attending training.