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Staff shortage “poses a risk to babies”

A lack of skilled nurses and a shortage of cots in England could be putting premature and sick babies at risk, a study claims.

A UK National Audit Office (NAO) report found that there are “significant shortages” of trained nurses across England, and that baby units are operating above their capacity.

And the NAO said that both issues mean that units had to close their doors to new admissions once a week on average during 2006-07.

A third of units (58) were found to be operating above the 70% capacity set out as a guideline by the British Association of Perinatal Medicine (BAPM), while a further three units were operating above 100% capacity, meaning there were more babies in cots than there were trained staff to care for them.

The report found that while most units have an adequate number of medical staff, there is a more “critical” situation when it comes to nurses with “significant shortages of trained nurses across the country and wide regional variations in vacancies”.

Responding to the report’s findings, national clinical director for
maternity services, Dr Sheila Shribman, said: “Whilst the UK is one of the safest places to give birth, we recognise there is still more to do.

“We will be working closely with the health service to look at these services in the light of the issues highlighted in the report.”

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National Audit Office