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Fall in one to one intensive care nursing linked to higher death rate

05 February 2016

A research paper has been published online today in Archives of Disease in Childhood (Fetal & Neonatal Edition), which shows that insufficient nurse staffing in neonatal intensive care units is associated with increased mortality rates.

The NESCOP (Neonatal Economic, Staffing and Clinical Outcomes Project) study, which was part funded by Bliss, looked at records from 43 neonatal intensive care units in England, and found that a decrease in the proportion of intensive care days on which one to one nursing was provided was associated with a significant increase in the mortality rate. The paper also reveals that the proportion of infants receiving any one to one care at all declined from around 39.5% to just under 36% between 2008 and 2012.

National standards state that babies in neonatal intensive care should receive a minimum of one to one nursing at all times. However, this research highlights how far most units are from achieving this. It also echoes the findings of the Bliss baby report: hanging in the balance, which found that only 14 per cent of neonatal intensive care units in England have enough nurses, with a shortfall of 1,430 nurses across the country.

Caroline Davey, Chief Executive of Bliss, the premature and sick baby charity said: “This research adds to a significant body of evidence that shows the importance of proper neonatal nurse staffing levels for babies’ survival, but also the distance we have yet to go to ensure that the sickest and most vulnerable babies receive the care that they deserve.

“The government and NHS decision makers have so far failed to take the necessary action to address these staffing shortfalls, which we have known about for many years. It is now absolutely vital that they focus on achieving the national standards. Having a baby on an intensive care unit is already an incredibly stressful situation - parents shouldn’t also have to worry if there are enough nurses to provide the right care for their baby.

“The government and NHS must now take action to improve staffing levels within neonatal care, in order to ensure that babies are receiving the very best care.”

Bliss Chief Executive Caroline Davey also co-authored, with Dr Alan Fenton and Ms Sue Turrill, an editorial on this research in the same publication, in which they conclude: “…there is already a sufficient body of evidence to justify a renewed focus on working towards achieving the national standards set for one-to-one nurse staffing in neonatal intensive care. If not now, when?”

If you would like to read the research in full, please click here

If you would like to join Bliss’ campaign for safer, better care for babies born premature and sick, please sign our open letter to Simon Stevens, the Chief Executive of NHS England: 


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