Special baby care 'still failing'
- Published on Tuesday, 02 November 2010 09:44
- Posted by Scott Buckler
Services caring for England’s premature and sick babies are still being stretched to the limit and not meeting minimum standards according to a report by Bliss the special care baby charity.
The chance of a lifetime?, Bliss’ sixth annual Baby Report, reveals that there is a shortage of 1,150 nurses to care for the 70,000 babies in need of specialist hospital care each year in England. Neonatal units are working way above the recommended occupancy level putting babies’ lives at risk and families are being put under immense financial and emotional pressure at what is already an extremely difficult time.
The NHS and Department of Health’s Toolkit for High Quality Neonatal Services (Toolkit) was launched in November 2009, and outlines a vision for neonatal services in England. It sets out eight principles by which neonatal care should be delivered to ensure the best outcomes for babies and their families. A modest investment now to improve these vital services will have a benefit to society of £1.4 billion over the babies’ lifetime.
Our report shows that units are chronically understaffed with an extra 1,150 nurses needed to meet the minimum standards set out in the Toolkit. Only a third of units have enough nurses in post to meet these minimum standards and, more than half of these shortages are found in the most specialised centres, intensive care units.
For neonatal units to ensure the optimum care is being delivered to babies the Toolkit sets out that they should have no more than an average of 80 per cent of their cots filled, to allow for occasional peaks in activity and to give babies and their families the level of care and attention they need. A major concern is that four fifths of units ran at a significantly higher average occupancy level than the recommended standard, 100 per cent or over for at least a month during 2009. In addition to this three quarters of units had to close to new admissions at some point during 2009.
The report underlines a serious lack of parent accommodation for parents to stay near their baby, with an extra 250 parent rooms needed to meet minimum standards. A recent Government report set out the commitment to provide all parents with babies in neonatal care overnight accommodation, if they needed it, by 2015. However, our report found that 60 per cent of mothers did not have accommodation available for them in or next to the unit and over half told us that accommodation for both parents was not available in or next to the unit.
On top of the day to day emotional pressures of having a baby in neonatal care, families are under immense financial strain also. Our report shows that families spend on average an extra £310 per week while their baby is in hospital. This is on top of all the usual expenses associated with having a new baby. The most significant cost faced by families was through loss of earnings, particularly as they or their partner had to give up work while their baby was in hospital. Financial support should be made available to families as set out in the Toolkit, however 40 per cent of parents told us that they were not given any form of financial help for these additional costs from their hospital.
Bliss Chief Executive Andy Cole said, “Yet again we are reporting on services being stretched to the limit and vulnerable babies not receiving the care they need and deserve. The vital care a tiny baby receives in the first few hours, days and weeks of life is crucial to their chance for a bright future. We now want to see the Coalition Government set out their commitment and take action to transform these essential services.”
Bliss wants to see NHS commissioners set out comprehensive plans outlining how they will deliver the full recommendations of the Toolkit without delay and that the Coalition Government provides the framework to ensure priority is given to neonatal care at a local level.