Lack of nurses on shifts for sick babies

Concern for nursing levels for premature babies in special care units in Lincolnshire. EMN-191219-142924001
Concern for nursing levels for premature babies in special care units in Lincolnshire. EMN-191219-142924001

Nurse staffing on neonatal units across Lincolnshire is well below nationally recommended levels, a new report has warned.

The annual National Neonatal Audit Programme measured staffing levels at neonatal units across England, Scotland and Wales for the first time.

It found that just 68.7 per cent of shifts were fully staffed across the East Midlands, including Lincolnshire, according to national guidelines. And just 23 per cent of all nursing shifts have sufficient specialist staff to care for the babies present in the region.

Nationally those figures are 64 per cent and 44 per cent respectively. To have a sufficient number of nurses on all shifts, the East Midlands Operational Delivery Network would need its nursing staff to work an additional 3,894 shifts.

The guidance states that the minimum nurse to baby ratio should be one nurse per baby in intensive care, one to two babies for high dependency care and one for four babies for special care.

The mortality rates in very premature babies (those born at 24 to 31 week gestation) in Lincolnshire and the East Midlands is above the average for England and Wales. In the East Midlands, the rate was 7.9 per cent compared to an average of 6.8 per cent across England and Wales.

Justin Irwin, chief executive of the premature and sick baby charity Bliss, said: “This report has found that not a single neonatal network in Britain has enough nurses in post to meet the minimum standards for providing safe, high quality care – and that only a third have enough nurses with an appropriate specialist qualification. These findings add to the multitude of evidence Bliss has found in recent years which show that neonatal nursing is reaching crisis point.

“We are particularly concerned that there aren’t enough specialist nurses to care for the smallest or sickest babies who require one-to-one nursing to have the best outcomes.

“These findings show how urgently funding is needed to grow the workforce, and retain the nurses who are currently working tirelessly within it.

“Nurses do brilliant work each and every day, but they remain permanently over-stretched while caring for the most vulnerable of patients – this simply cannot go on.’’

Lincolnshire has a specialist neonatal unit at Lincoln County Hospital.

Divisional Head of Nursing and Midwifery for Family Health, Penny Snowden, said: “Neonatal nurses do an amazing job looking after our smallest and often most fragile patients. They undergo extensive training to be able to provide the level of care that is needed for our sickest babies.

“We have an amazing team at both Pilgrim and Lincoln hospitals who support these young babies who are born early, as well as their families. At Pilgrim we meet the 70 per cent national standard for specialist neonatal nurses, and at Lincoln we are currently supporting four additional nurses in their speciality training which means by July 2020 they will also be at 70 per cent.”

The Government last week pledged to make a legal guarantee for NHS funding and to introduce a maintenance grant for student nurses.