New research from Bliss, the premature and sick baby charity, has found that half of the specialist neonatal transport services across the UK have reported staffing shortages.
Bliss’ report, Transfers of premature and sick babies, shows that in a one week snapshot, half of the neonatal transport services across the UK reported gaps in their rota.
Bliss also found that:
There are nearly 1,000 transfers of babies every year because of lack of capacity in neonatal units
One in four neonatal transport services in the UK does not have a dedicated neonatal transfer team at night, leaving vulnerable babies reliant on neighbouring services or busy hospital staff.
Eight out of nine neonatal transport services in England were unable to meet the NHS standard for time-critical transfers, which states that in 95 per cent of cases they should set off within one hour of receiving a call
There is currently no air transport in England for the smallest and sickest babies who need a heated incubator
There are currently 13 regional neonatal transport services in England, two in Wales, one in Scotland and one in Northern Ireland. Between them they carry out 16,000 transfers of premature and sick babies each year.
Specialist neonatal transport services are integral to the delivery of a high quality neonatal service, allowing babies to be cared for in the right place, as close to home as possible. There has been significant and welcome progress in developing these services in the past fifteen years, but there is still a long way to go until all services can provide consistent, safe, high quality care.
Based on the report’s findings, Bliss has made the following recommendations:
Governments and the NHS must ensure that all neonatal transport services have the funding they need to provide a 24 hour service with dedicated road vehicles, sufficient for the population they serve
NHS bodies responsible for education and training, together with the relevant Royal Colleges, should put long term plans in place to address national skills shortages
Neonatal services should ensure that all parents are as involved as possible if their baby needs to be transferred.
Caroline Davey, Chief Executive of Bliss, said: “Neonatal transport services are integral to delivering the best care for babies, but this research shows that they are often under-staffed, under-resourced and part-time. This means that some of the sickest babies are having to wait much longer than they should to reach the right level of neonatal unit for life-saving care. Investment is urgently needed to address staff shortages across all neonatal services, including specialist transport, so that every baby has the best chance of survival and quality of life.
“Parents of premature and sick babies tell us how much they appreciate the committed, hard-working staff who do their best to provide high quality care, however even parents recognise that these professionals are being pushed to their limits.”
The mother of twins born at 29 weeks told us: “I was not able to travel with either of my twins. It was very emotional to see them strapped inside the travel incubator… The hospital hired a private neonatal ambulance to transport one twin because the NHS neonatal ambulance had to cover an emergency”.
Click here to read the report