It seems the recession is rearing its ugly head again as ministers cancel plans to help fund a programme to improve the quality of care for very sick babies.
A report published today, produced by a task force on neonatal care revealed that across England’s 162 neonatal units there are shortages of up to 2,700 nurses and 300 other staff like physiotherapists and dieticians. It was hoped that ministers would back and fund the proposals for the specialist care that is offered to babies in their first four weeks of life.
Sir Bruce Keogh – the deputy chief medical officer is chairman of the task force, which was set up a year ago to try and offer babies the same one-to-one intensive care that sick adults are given. Numerous professional medical organizations have endorsed this proposal for the last 15 years. It was suggested that an injection of £89m a year would be necessary along with one-off costs of £102m.
However ministers are calling for the funding to be obtained from within local health budgets instead.
Figures show that in England in 2007 2,127 babies died within the first 28 days of their lives. Babies are more likely to die in this neonatal period with 60 per cent of infant deaths occurring within this time frame. Research shows that one-to-one nursing would minimize the number of deaths.
Across England, 30 per cent of the 46 neonatal intensive care units are seriously lacking in staff numbers to offer one-to-one care.
Chief executive of the premature baby charity Bliss, Andy Cole admitted the decision to pull funding was a “huge missed opportunity”. He added that estimated costs to offer a “world class service ” were as low as £150 per baby. “That is the kind of insurance policy most parents would be prepared to take out to ensure their baby got the best standard of critical care, should they need it. We hope the NHS will find the money to deliver it,” he said.
Ann Keen, health minister, said, “Having a sick baby is very distressing for parents at what should be one of their happiest moments. That’s why we’re providing the NHS with practical guidance on how to make neonatal services even better and take a family-centred approach to care.”