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'Staff shortages' at baby units

19th December 2007

Staff shortages are forcing neonatal units in England to close their doors to new admissions once a week on average.

Premature Baby

Finance watchdog the National Audit Office found that there were 459 vacancies for neonatal nurses, which amounts to 9% of the total workforce.

NAO inspectors warned that many of the 180 units in England were too full to give the best care to sick babies and that a third of units were operating above the 70% capacity set out as a guideline by the British Association of Perinatal Medicine.

The report also said that three units were operating above 100% capacity, with more babies in cots than there were trained staff to care for them.

The NAO said: "These high occupancy rates could have consequences for patient safety, for example due to the increased risk of infection or inadequate levels of care."

It is believed that about 60,000 babies a year, or 10% of babies born, need specialist neonatal care because they are premature or suffering from a condition.

The NAO praised the reorganisation of neonatal units into 23 regional networks, which had cut the need for long-distance transfers but it also found wide variations in the death rates of babies.

Government maternity tsar Dr Sheila Shribman said: "The networks are working hard to recruit and retain staff as well as introducing new ways of working to free up specialist nurses to deliver the cot-side care they were trained for."

But premature baby charity Bliss said the report revealed some serious problems in the service.

 

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