A report by a baby care charity has claimed that babies’ lives are being put at risk because there are not enough nurses working in neonatal units in England.
The annual review by Bliss claims that a shortage of 1,150 nurses is stretching services in the country to the limit, and vulnerable newborns will be deprived of the care they need unless action is taken.
It concludes in its sixth annual Baby Report that specialist units looking after 70,000 babies every year are chronically understaffed, while only a third have enough nurses to meet the Department of Health’s minimum standards.
It says more than half of these shortages are found in the most specialised centres - intensive care units.
A 2009 government report, Toolkit for High Quality Neonatal Services, recommended that neonatal units should have no more than 80% of their cots filled to allow for occasional peaks in activity and ensure that babies and their parents have access to the level of care they require.
However, Bliss’s research discovered that four in every five specialist centres are operating at a higher occupancy level than advised in the guidelines, with 100% of cots full for at least a month during 2009. Three-quarters of units had to turn away new admissions at some point last year.
She said: “We welcome this report and are concerned that it is highlighting that services for the sickest babies are being stretched to breaking point.
“Midwives and neonatal nurses provide a vital service supporting mothers and babies and more money needs to be invested in neonatal services and staffing to give the most vulnerable babies the best start in life.”