Call to improve sick-baby units
New standards for the care of sick babies have been published in an attempt to improve services in England. Specialist baby care was heavily criticised by the National Audit Office two years ago.
Ministers have now responded by demanding one-on-one nursing care for the most ill babies as well as better transport services between hospitals.
But campaigners and doctors have voiced their concerns, because there is no new money for the service. Nearly 70,000 babies a year are treated in neonatal units – the equivalent to one in 10 births.
Demand has been increasing – up 9% in the past three years – as there are more older women having children, multiple births due to fertility treatment and premature babies surviving birth, all of which are more likely to lead to complications.
To cope, the 180 neonatal units have organised themselves into 23 regional networks. This has allowed health chiefs to concentrate the most difficult treatment – intensive care – in about 50 main centres.
But the National Audit Office said babies were still suffering because of staffing shortfalls.
The Department of Health has now recommended one-to-one nursing in intensive care, one-to-two in high dependency units and one-to-four in special care. Most special care units will already be achieving this standards, but for intensive care only about a quarter currently are.