Belfast Telegraph

Inadequate neonatal services putting Northern Ireland babies at risk

Report cites shortage of neonatal unit medics

By Eamon Sweeney

Pressures on neonatal services in Northern Ireland are putting the lives of sick and vulnerable babies at risk, charities claim.

A report says a shortage of neonatal nurses and doctors here means children’s units are not equipped to ensure the highest safety standards and quality of care for premature and ill babies at all times.

The Bliss and Tiny Life Northern Ireland baby report 2018 will be launched at Stormont.

It states that medical staff are having to make difficult decisions such as closing cots to new admissions in an effort to maintain safe working practices because of scant resources.

Key findings include:

• Over half of neonatal units do not have enough nurses to meet minimum standards.

• 55% of the nursing shortfall can be attributed to inadequate funding for recruitment.

• Five out of seven neonatal units here have difficulties with at least one aspect of nurse training and development.

• Five units have no dedicated access to a mental health professional.

• Four units do not have enough medical staff in post to meet minimum standards.

• No units have a neonatal community outreach service to support families after discharge.

Caroline Lee-Davey, chief executive of Bliss, said: “Neonatal services in Northern Ireland are facing a number of serious challenges which are severely affecting the care of the 1,800 babies born premature or sick in the country every year. The Department of Health must invest in neonatal care so that neonatal units are able to recruit and properly train their staff.

“Without this investment, neonatal services across Northern Ireland will be facing a crisis in years to come, putting the most vulnerable babies at risk.”

The Department of Health said it would give careful consideration to the report. “The department looks to the Health and Social Care (HSC) Board and the HSC Trusts to provide assurance on the quality of care of neonatal services provided in our hospitals and would wish to assure the public that they can have confidence in the neonatal services provided by the HSC,” it said.

“Every day staff work extremely hard to ensure a safe service is provided to the babies in their care. The Neonatal Network Northern Ireland continues to make a major contribution to ensure babies receive the right care in the right place, at the right time and from the right staff.

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