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Services for Wales’s sickest babies under pressure

08 July 2016

Neonatal services in Wales are overstretched and under incredible pressure, putting the safety of the sickest babies at risk. Findings of new research published in the Bliss baby report 2016: time for change, show that there is a severe shortage of neonatal nurses and doctors, meaning units are not able to meet national standards on safety and quality of care for premature and sick babies (1).

The report is being launched today at an event in the Welsh Assembly for AMs, clinicians, policymakers and families.

Key findings

  • Only two out of ten neonatal units had enough nurses to staff all of their cots in line with national safety and quality standards. This is due to a combination of insufficient investment in neonatal nurse posts and a shortage of children’s nurses across Wales.
  • Only two out of 11 neonatal units were funded to have enough nurses with a specialist qualification in neonatal care. All neonatal units identified difficulties with at least one aspect of nurse training and development.
  • Over half of units did not have enough medical staff to meet national standards, with shortages often present across all levels of seniority, posing a particular risk to units being able to provide a safe level of care.
  • None of Wales’ neonatal intensive care units, which provide the most specialist care to the sickest babies, have enough overnight accommodation for parents to meet national standards, leaving many unable to stay close to their critically ill baby. It is vital that parents are able to stay close to their baby as research shows that when parents are involved in their baby’s care it significantly improves their development and recovery.
  • At over half of units parents have no access to any psychological support.

The report, published by Bliss, the premature and sick baby charity, makes the following recommendations:

  • The Welsh Government and Health Boards must ensure that national standards for neonatal services are met
  • In order to meet these standards and give babies the best chance of survival and improved long term health, investment in staffing is desperately needed
  • The Welsh Government must fund more nurse training places in child health and provide much needed leadership to address the critical medical workforce challenges facing neonatal services in Wales.

Caroline Davey, Chief Executive of Bliss, said: “It is clear that neonatal services in Wales are under extreme pressure, and staff are being spread too thin. Without urgent action, the gap between the standards required and the care provided will widen even further. Whilst there has been some welcome progress in the development of neonatal services in Wales in recent years, it is clear that units are still struggling to meet standards due to shortages of staff and barriers to training.

“Bliss’ new findings serve as a stark warning to the Welsh Government and Health Boards that they must provide additional investment to ensure that national standards for neonatal services are met. This investment must be made urgently to avoid neonatal services in Wales reaching breaking point, and to give premature and sick babies the best possible chance of survival and quality of life.”

  • Bliss spokespeople are available for comment / interview from Wednesday 6 July.
  • Parents with recent experience of neonatal services in Wales are also available for interview upon request.
  • Executive summaries and full copies of the report are available upon request.

ENDS

Notes to editors

(1) The All-Wales Neonatal Standards, which set out clear standards for the delivery of safe, effective, high quality neonatal care in Wales, were first developed in 2008, and updated in 2013

  • Images and case studies are available on request
  • Bliss champions the right for every baby born premature or sick to receive the best care. We achieve this by empowering families, influencing policy and practice, and enabling life-changing research. Visit bliss.org.uk for more information.
  • Bliss has reported on neonatal staff shortages before, the reports can be seen here: bliss.org.uk/campaigns-and-policy-reports
  • In November 2015, Bliss sent a survey to the 11 neonatal units in Wales. All of these units responded.
  • The All-Wales Neonatal Network was established in 2010 and dedicated neonatal transport services in 2011.
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