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Report reveals shortage of specialist neonatal transport services

UK charity report shows that premature and sick babies are struggling to access transport services

15 April 2016

Medical negligence solicitor Maria Panteli has welcomed the publication of a report by Bliss, a UK charity working to provide the best possible care and support for all premature and sick babies and their families. The report says that half of the specialist neonatal transport services across the UK have reported staffing shortages.  

This raises concern that vulnerable babies are being put at greater risk and that this may impact upon their chances of survival.  

Bliss reports that there are currently 13 regional neonatal transport services in England, two in Wales, one in Scotland and one in Northern Ireland.  Between them they carry out 16,000 transfers of premature and sick babies each year.

Bliss also found that:
  • There are nearly 1,000 transfers of babies every year because of lack of capacity in neonatal units.
  • One in four neonatal transport services in the UK does not have a dedicated neonatal transfer team at night, leaving vulnerable babies reliant on neighbouring services or busy hospital staff.
  • Eight out of nine neonatal transport services in England were unable to meet the NHS standard for time-critical transfers, which states that in 95% cases they should set off within one hour of receiving a call.
  • There is currently no air transport in England for the smallest and sickest babies who need a heated incubator.

In the light of the report’s findings, Bliss has made the following recommendations:
  • Governments and the NHS must ensure that all neonatal transport services have the funding they need to provide a 24 hour service with dedicated road vehicles, sufficient for the population they serve.
  • NHS bodies responsible for education and training, together with the relevant Royal Colleges, should put long term plans in place to address national skills shortages.
  • Neonatal services should ensure that all parents are as involved as possible if their baby needs to be transferred.

Maria Panteli, specialist clinical negligence partner at law firm, Leigh Day, says:

“It is of great concern and sadness to read Bliss’ report and to consider the potential impact of staff shortages on sick babies and their families. 

"We recognise that dedicated and hardworking neonatal staff are doing their best to provide high quality care and are having to cope with a high demand for services which are under-resourced. 

"We welcome and support the recommendations made by Bliss for urgent investment to address staff shortages across all neonatal services, so that every baby has the best chance of survival and quality of life.”

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