Date Published: 14 July 2005
UK Neonatal Units struggle to accomodate sick and premature babies needing specialist care services
The BBC has reported on a recent survey carried out by the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit on behalf of the Charity "Bliss". This surveyed neonatal units in the United Kingdom, receiving responses from 153 units.
One of the key findings of this study is that at the present time many babies have to travel hundreds of moles for approriate care - due to insufficient local facilities in their own area. It is suggested that over 70% of UK neonatal units have had to turn away new admissions at some point in the last six months. A common explanation was that they had insufficient nursing staff to care for further sick or premature babies.
Bliss said putting in 2,700 additional nurses could save the lives of up to 500 babies a year. It also claimed that £75m would pay for the staff increase needed to give adequate care in neonatal care units, allowing those in intensive care to receive the same one-to-one nursing that children and adults are entitled to. (Only 2% of units currently achieve that standard, which is set down by the British Association of Perinatal Medicine.)
Health Officials are considering the evidence presented in this study, which indicates some critical shortfalls that still need to be addressed. There are also wide variations in infant mortality rates across the country. In parts of Scotland, a baby is three times as likely to die before its first birthday than in the south of England. Bliss has also launched a "bill of rights" for babies, outlining their right to high quality, sensitive care.
Professor Neil Marlow, of the British Association of Perinatal Medicine, is quoted:
" It is vital that neonatal services and the government continually review provision of care, so we can improve the outlook for these vulnerable infants.
" This report highlights some critical shortfalls that still need to be addressed."
Media coverage of this issue has caused questions to be asked of health officials and politicians.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said that the department would consider the evidence from Bliss to see where more could be achieved.
Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said:
" It is vital we give paediatric services dedicated resources and structure to ensure service capacity, staffing and standards can be enhanced."
Source: Widely reported in UK media in July 2005. See for example http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4679599.stm.