Too Few Nurses Threatens Lives of Sick Newborn Babies in Wales; HEALTH Lack of Cash Means Infants Sent to England

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Byline: Greg Tindle

THE care of sick newborn babies in Wales still lags behind the rest of the UK, a damning report claims today.

The service is crippled by a shortage of nursing staff working to save the lives of an increasing number of frail and premature infants, it found.

A lack of funding means babies born fighting for their lives in Wales continue to be switched to hospitals in England because there are too few expert staff or cots for them to be cared for in local hospitals, the study by UK baby charity Bliss highlights.

A new pledge to pump pounds 2m into the running of Wales' 13 special care baby units, which treat 4,000 babies a year, falls far short of what is needed to bring the service up to the standards already being set in Scotland, England and Northern Ireland, it said.

Bliss chief executive Andy Cole said: "Amazing care is being provided to premature and sick babies and their families in Wales but doctors and nurses are stretched to the limit.

"What is missing and needed is dedicated data of where cots are available at any one time and transport system made up of doctors and nurses able to switch these babies to units rather than nurses ringing around to try to find a cot and then having to accompany the child taking her off the ward and thereby worsening the staff shortage.

"The recommended medical level in these units is one-to-one nursing care - and that is a minimum. This is not taking place. In fact it's half that, with one nurse looking after two babies. Adults and children receive this one-to-one standard if they are admitted to an intensive care unit, but not babies."

Mr Cole said an extra 120 neonatal nurses were needed in Wales - a one third increase on the present number of 382. It would cost up to pounds 4m a year just to get them into post.

The report Baby Steps to Better Care was yesterday handed to the Welsh Assembly Government with a list of demands on how to improve the care of sick children. They include:

A nurse for every baby on a special care unit;

An action plan to tackle the shortage of neonatal nurses, and

Round-the-clock access to neonatal transport available to all units in Wales to ensure a smooth transfer of babies to the nearest available bed.

Mr Cole said: "Wales needs to catch up with the rest of the UK and we want to see the care of these babies as a top priority."

Dr Mark Drayton, a consultant neonatal paediatrician at Cardiff's University of Hospital of Wales - the nation's busiest special care baby unit with 450 admission a year - said: "We are lagging behind in Wales with a lack of resources and staff and the care they give is being spread too thinly. We need more staff and a transport system to ensure babies are able to be switched between units within a minimum of disruption to the child and their family. …