Manchester lawyer welcomes charity report on specialist nurses shortage in baby units

Nurse shortage in baby units

20.04.2007

Lindsay Wise, a partner specialising in Medical Law and Patients Rights at leading law firm Irwin Mitchell in Manchester, today responded to the report from the premature baby charity Bliss by saying the current situation undoubtedly put babies at more risk.

She said, The cases we handle are often where pregnancies are normal and the foetus is healthy up to labour and then things go wrong, so you cannot always foresee that specialist care is going to be required from a specific hospital.

The report from Bliss, the premature baby charity says that at least 2,500 extra nurses are needed, at a cost of £75 million, to ensure that NHS cots are staffed adequately. The high number of babies born sick and premature “

80,000 a year - has been put down to the rise in older women having babies, an increased reliance on IVF, and a high rate of teenage pregnancies.

But, increasingly, mothers are being shunted around the country in search of an intensive care cot staffed by a specialist nurse, it says. Transfers between hospitals can involve journeys of up to 480 miles. Neonatal units are understaffed by a third, yet there was a "proven link" between staffing ratios and infant death rates.

Irwin Mitchells Lindsay Wise continued, sometimes it may be possible for a unit to prepare if a woman is a classic case for risk of premature birth, but often it is not so clear cut. By proposing that specialist services are only available in certain hospitals we are potentially creating serious problems for the future.

For example any delay in transfer of a sick baby following birth will only add to that baby's problems as will inappropriate staff/equipment, particularly if specialist care is not available on site to provide the appropriate treatment immediately prior and during transfer.

Skilled resuscitation of a sick baby can often be crucial in reducing the period of brain damage which is why if it looks like a baby will be born in a poor condition, standard practice dictates that a paediatrician be present at birth to provide the skilled techniques required.

Research from the University of Oxford's National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit showed that if the recommended level of one nurse to one baby in intensive care were reached, infant deaths could be reduced by 48 per cent. Only 3.8 per cent currently achieve the recommended staff ratios. The charity, established 27 years ago by a group of concerned parents, said that while advances in technology had resulted in more babies surviving, there were chronic shortages of specialist nurses to provide the care.

"Institutionalised inequalities are seen even at the point of birth," the report says. "In adult and paediatric intensive care there is an accepted standard of at least one nurse to one patient yet in neonatal care only three per cent of neonatal units can provide this."