The National Maternity and Perinatal Audit (NMPA) report, released today, describes how maternity and neonatal care is provided across England, Scotland and Wales. For mothers with a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby there’s a clear increase in birthplace choice for pregnant women - but the report also reveals concerning findings about the availability of staff, facilities and specialist services across both maternity and neonatal care.
In relation to neonatal services specifically, the report highlights that only 16% of neonatal intensive care units (NICUs), which will care for the smallest and sickest babies, have the appropriate number of parents’ bedrooms as recommended in national guidance from The Department of Health and the Wales Neonatal Network, of one bedroom per intensive care cot. This echoes Bliss’ own findings in our Families kept apart report, which details the importance of units providing accommodation facilities to enable parents to be with their baby while receiving care. The fact that so few NICUs can offer accommodation to families means that many parents will be forced to pay for accommodation nearby, or travel long distances in order to be able to visit their baby on the unit. At this traumatic time, preventing parents from being closely involved in their babies' care goes against evidence that premature and sick babies' health is improved when their parents are supported to take the lead in care such as through skin to skin care, breastfeeding and comfort holding.
On the subject of neonatal unit staffing, the lack of data acquired by the panel shows starkly the need for further investment in neonatal data collection overall, and that more work must be done to get a full picture of both maternity and neonatal services in order to drive improvements. In Bliss’ own reports, we have highlighted that many units in England, Wales and Scotland are unable to meet neonatal nursing and medical staffing standards, with around 2,140 more nurses being needed to care for babies in England alone. Bliss will continue to work in collaboration with the NMPA on improving data collection and reporting in this area, as well as campaigning on the problems that this data highlights, to bring improvements to neonatal care for all babies born premature or sick in the UK.