Welsh assembly holds inquiry into neonatal baby care
A Welsh assembly inquiry into neonatal hospital services has been told about the need for improvements in the care of premature and sick babies.
Around 4,000 are admitted to neonatal care across the nation per year.
Special care baby charity Bliss says there is still a shortage of nurses first highlighted in a report in 2010. The Royal College of Nursing says staff are not receiving training needed.
The Welsh government says it is taking action, including reviewing staff.
The Bliss report said the "most serious issues" in relation to access to consultant and middle grade doctors in Wales lie within the three neonatal units in north Wales run by the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board.
'Safety is paramount'
It has "serious concern" about intensive care for babies at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd, Bodelwyddan, Denbighshire, and Wrexham Maelor Hospital, saying "neither of these units are even approaching compliance with the All Wales Neonatal Standards on medical staffing of a unit providing this level of care".
The Bliss report points out that the health board has already launched a review of maternity, neonatal and paediatric services in north Wales which "seeks to address this issue amongst others".
It adds: "We believe that despite the best efforts of staff currently involved in the care of babies in north Wales, there are serious safety implications that the health board must address without delay.
"The safety of these babies is paramount."
Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board said the issues raised are being considered by the review of maternity and child health services across north Wales.
"This review is considering how we can achieve this level of specialist input on a sustainable basis in future. The findings will be reported to the board in the summer," said the board in a statement.
The All Wales Neonatal Network was set up in 2010 to review the services and includes local health boards working collectively to plan and fund specialised services.
It has said the staff shortfall across units in Wales was equivalent to 82.64 whole time equivalent nurses.
'Important and emotive issue'
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health Wales has submitted its concerns to the inquiry.
The RCPCH Wales report says without changes, "sick babies will continue to be managed for too long in units that are not appropriately staffed or experienced for the level of care needed".
And it adds that "very limited progress has been made to improve compliance with nurse staffing against all-Wales standards and says nurse deficits are at 24.2% for north Wales, 20.8% in south west Wales, 11.8% in south central and 23.2% in south east Wales.
Regarding staff skills, the Royal College of Nursing told the inquiry: "Part of the difficulty is that nursing staff are simply not being released for education and training in neonatal care by the local health boards.
"This, combined with natural retirement is sharply reducing the available pool of neonatal nurses across Wales."
Christine Chapman, chair of the Children and Young People Committee which is conducting the inquiry, wants to establish what progress the Welsh government has made in implementing recommendations published by the former Health, Wellbeing and Local Government Committee in July 2010.
Health Minister Lesley Griffiths submitted an update to the committee, saying, among other things, staff shortfalls are being addressed by local health boards.
At the end of Thursday's meeting the committee decided further consultation was needed.