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Warning over neonatal nursing staff shortages

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More than three quarters of intensive care neonatal units in England are operating with dangerously low levels of nursing staff, according to an independent review.

The review found that 76% of intensive care neonatal units were not reaching staffing standards set by the British Association of Perinatal Medicine (BAPM).

It also showed that each of the country’s 180 units had an average of three vacancies for nurses qualified in neonatal care. This accounts to 9% of the total workforce.

The report, issued by the National Audit Office (NAO), reviewed the current state of care for premature babies since the Department of Health announced plans to reorganise neonatal services into 23 regional networks in 2003.

Every unit closed to new admissions an average of 52 times in the last year, due to lack of cots and shortages in nursing staff.

Commenting on the findings, Edward Leigh MP, chairperson of the Committee of Public Accounts said: “It is shocking to hear that the safety of ill and defenceless babies is being compromised by a significant shortage of nursing staff.”

The report also found problems in the training and recruitment of nursing staff due to budget constraints and a decline in qualified staff.

In 2007-2007, 62,471 babies, which accounts to one in ten births across the UK, were admitted to neonatal units. This is almost a 5% increase from the previous year.

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