Most neonatal units in Wales do not have enough nurses, according to a new report on the state of services for sick and premature babies.
The report, by premature baby charity Bliss, warned that a severe shortage of neonatal nurses and doctors meant the country’s 11 units were struggling to meet national standards.
“It is clear neonatal services in Wales are under extreme pressure”
It blamed lack of investment and a Wales-wide shortage of children’s nurses for just two units – out of 10 that provided relevant staffing data – being able to meet safe staffing guidelines.
Meanwhile, nine out of the 11 units did not have enough nurses with a specialist qualification in neonatal care, found the charity, which said more investment in staffing was “desperately needed”.
The charity document titled – Bliss baby report 2016: time for change – estimated that 87 more nurses were needed to properly staff the eight units where shortages were reported.
However, it also identified a gap between the number of nurses required to meet standards and the number posts actually funded.
Of the eight neonatal units that did not have enough nurses per funded cots in 2014-15, none would have enough nurses even if all their vacancies were filled, according to Bliss. It said there would still be a shortfall of 45 nurses in total.
‘Unprecedented’ nurse shortages hitting neonatal units
Meanwhile, the report concluded that safe staffing levels at the busiest and most specialist neonatal units in Wales were “not being met on a day-to-day basis”.
It found none of Wales’ three neonatal intensive care units had enough nurses to care for the babies admitted in 2014-15 in line with standards for nurse-to-baby ratios – with shortfalls of 24, 18 and 11 nurses, respectively.
In addition, none of the intensive care units had enough overnight accommodation for parents.
All units reported difficulties with at least one aspect of nurse training and development.
The report also found more than half of units did not have enough medical staff to meet national standards, with shortages often across all levels of seniority “posing a particular risk to units being able to provide a safe level of care”.
“It is clear neonatal services in Wales are under extreme pressure, and staff are being spread too thin,” said Bliss chief executive Caroline Davey.
“Without urgent action, the gap between the standards required and the care provided will widen even further,” she said.
“Whilst there has been some welcome progress in the development of neonatal services in Wales in recent years, it is clear that units are still struggling to meet standards due to shortages of staff and barriers to training,” she added.
The charity called on the Welsh Government to fund more nurse training places in child health and said ministers and health boards must ensure national standards for neonatal services were met.
“The findings of the Bliss report will be used by the neonatal network”
In response, the government said health boards were working with the Welsh Health Specialised Services Committee and the clinician-led Wales Neonatal Network to improve services.
There had been steady and ongoing improvement at every health board since 2008 when it came to meeting national neonatal standards, said a government spokesman.
“The neonatal network works with health boards to provide flexible, responsive staffing to meet fluctuating needs for specialised neonatal services, and to address any shortcomings in staffing levels,” he added.
“To support the development of our workforce, we have announced an £85m package of investment in the education and training of healthcare professionals in Wales, including neonatal staff,” said the spokesman.
But he added: “The findings of the Bliss report will be used by the neonatal network to help all units reflect on, and plan, for any changes needed for the future.”