Northern Ireland MPs meet with Bliss to discuss pressure on neonatal services

Posted on May 23, 2018

Bliss and TinyLife have met with MPs from Northern Ireland to discuss their role in supporting the case for urgent additional investment to ensure all neonatal units across Northern Ireland are safe.

A group of MPs have met with two leading charities to discuss Northern Ireland’s overstretched neonatal services.

The group of MPs included: Nigel Dodds (Belfast North), Paul Girvan (South Antrim), Emma Little Pengelly (Belfast South), Gavin Robinson (Belfast East) and Jim Shannon (Strangford). Parliamentary Under-Secretary of the Northern Ireland Office, Shailesh Vara was also in attendance.

The Bliss and TinyLife meeting with MPs follows the recent publication of the Bliss and TinyLife Northern Ireland baby report 2018 which found that neonatal services are under incredible pressure.

The report found that in Northern Ireland:

  • Over half of neonatal units do not have enough nurses in post to meet minimum standards for providing safe, high quality care.
  • 55 per cent of the nursing shortfall can be attributed to inadequate funding for recruitment.
  • Five out of seven neonatal units in Northern Ireland have difficulties with at least one aspect of nurse training and development. One issue raised by some units was that there are not enough staff to cover shifts to send nurses on enhanced training courses.
  • Five out of seven neonatal units have no dedicated access to a mental health professional, and three neonatal units are unable to provide access to any trained mental health professional at all, including by referral to an external service.
  • Four out of seven neonatal units in Northern Ireland do not have enough medical staff in post to meet minimum standards.
  • Four out of six[i] units are unable to provide accommodation for all parents of critically ill babies.
  • No units in Northern Ireland have a neonatal community outreach service to support families after discharge.

Caroline Lee-Davey, Chief Executive of Bliss, said: “Neonatal services in Northern Ireland are facing a number of serious challenges which are severely affecting the care of the 1,800 babies born premature or sick in the country every year. We know that neonatal staff do a fantastic job on limited resources, but our findings show that investment is urgently needed to ensure that every baby born premature or sick can receive the best care.

“While health is the responsibility of the devolved government at Stormont, in the absence of a functioning Executive for over a year it has been particularly important for us to meet with MPs from Northern Ireland to discuss their role in supporting the case for urgent additional investment to ensure all neonatal units across Northern Ireland are safe, well organised and properly staffed.”

Alison McNulty, Chief Executive of TinyLife, said: “As the premature baby charity for Northern Ireland, we appreciate the challenging circumstances that staff find themselves in whilst working to maintain the best safety standards and quality of care.  However, we also know that the Government can be doing more to invest in neonatal care to ensure that families have the best support they can whilst on the neonatal unit and beyond.

“We hope that this meeting with MPs will give us an opportunity to highlight that investment is essential into a Care Pathway, from hospital to home that ensures the best outcomes for all premature babies born in Northern Ireland.”

[i] This figure only takes into account six units because one unit did not give enough information to determine whether the accommodation they had was equal or in excess of their intensive care cots.