Three quarters of neonatal units in Scotland are failing to meet minimum safe staffing levels, according to a report from a charity for premature and sick babies.
Last week recommendations for the future shape of Scottish neonatal services were published, but the charity Bliss Scotland has highlighted what it describes as the urgent need to address current staffing issues.
“Neonatal units across Scotland are understaffed and under-resourced”
Its Bliss Scotland baby report 2017 (see attached PDF below), published today, revealed that inadequate funding was responsible for 83% of the staffing shortfall.
The charity found all but two units did not even have plans to recruit the necessary nurses to meet standards that neonatal experts describe as “the bare minimum for adequate service provision”.
Only two of the level 3 units – for the sickest and most vulnerable babies – had enough nurses in post, according to the report.
Guidelines published in 2013 by the Scottish government – titled Neonatal Care in Scotland: A Quality Framework – set out nurse-to-baby ratios that should be maintained for the different levels of cot to ensure that all babies receive the care they need.
They state there should be one nurse available for every four babies in special care, one nurse available for every two babies in high dependency, and one nurse for every baby in intensive care.
Bliss Scotland warned that, while the recent national review of maternity and neonatal services acknowledged the need to improve skills and training among the neonatal workforce, it did not include specific commitments to provide funding for it.
Neither did it tackle the additional staff urgently required, nor a timetable for improvements, said the charity, in response to the review’s findings, which were revealed on Friday.
Caroline Lee-Davey, chief executive of Bliss Scotland, said: “Our report shows that neonatal units across Scotland are understaffed and under-resourced, and that this is putting babies at risk.
“While we welcome the government’s progressive vision for Scottish neonatal services, services for premature and sick babies are already overstretched, and any plan for improvements must provide sufficient funding to address the problems that exist now,” she said.
‘Unprecedented’ nurse shortages hitting neonatal units
The charity said a further concern was an aging workforce, meaning many more staff would retire in the next five to 10 years.
In addition, the report also found serious concerns with staff training and recruitment – with 10 out of 11 units reporting problems training their nurses to the necessary level.
Meanwhile, many units failed to provide adequate parental support, said the report. Over half did not have enough overnight accommodation for those with critically ill babies, less than a third were able to refer for counselling, and just one in six gave support to all parents for food and drink costs.
Bliss’ most recent report on English neonatal services was published in 2015. It found that 64% of neonatal units did not have enough nurses to meet standards on safe staffing levels.
The difference between the countries was in part due to difference in the standards, and the network and funding structures, said the charity.