More than half of specialist care units for newborn babies are not meeting the government’s minimum standards, putting England’s sickest babies at risk, a charity has warned.
Last year, Bliss reported that 1,150 extra nurses were needed to meet the Department of Health’s minimum standards for neonatal care but it said its recent research found 140 posts had been cut in this area.
The standards state that seven out of 10 (70%) of a neonatal unit’s nursery and midwifery workforce should be qualified in specialist neonatal care but the charity estimates that for every unit to meet minimum standards, 450 nurses currently in post need to receive extra training.
One in 10 neonatal units told the charity training and education budgets had been cut and they struggled to release nurses for training due to a lack of staff to cover shifts.
Bliss chief executive Andy Cole said: “The government’s assurances that frontline services would not be affected by changes in the NHS is not true for these most vulnerable patients.
“The government and NHS must take responsibility now and ensure our tiniest and sickest babies receive the highest standard of care at this critical time in their lives.”
Janet Davies, executive director of nursing at the Royal College of Nursing, said: “It is deeply shocking that at a time when extra nurses are needed to meet even the most basic standards of neonatal care, some (NHS) trusts are making reckless cuts to posts, which will undoubtedly have an impact on the care of premature and sick babies.
“Sadly, this is a reflection on what is happening throughout the NHS, where we know that 40,000 posts are earmarked to be lost.
“It is critical that hospitals have the right numbers of specialist nurses, who can provide one-to-one care to premature babies and support for families at an extremely stressful time in their lives.
“Equally, a properly funded strategy is now urgently needed to recruit and retain more of these specialist nurses.”
The Bliss findings came from Freedom of Information requests sent to all neonatal units in England, which had a 92% response rate.