NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 20, 2007

Scores of premature babies may be dying unnecessarily across England because the National Health Service mismanaged neonatal unit reform, says the U.K.'s National Audit Office (NAO).

According to the NAO:

  • Half of the 180 units providing neonatal services did not meet the approved ratio for high dependency care of one nurse to two babies; only 24 percent met the intensive care ratio of one nurse to one baby.
  • Units had to close to new admissions on average about once a week in 2006-07, mainly due to a lack of cots or staff shortages.


  • A third of the units had a cot occupancy rate of more than 70 percent -- the maximum recommended to avoid harming babies through increased risk of infection or inadequate levels of care.
  • Only half the units provided round-the-clock specialist transport services; staff often had to leave the unit to accompany a baby on a transfer, leaving colleagues even more overstretched.

According to the NAO, the problem was due to mismanagement.  Starting in 2003, health ministers provided £73 million ($145 million) over three years to link up hospital neonatal units in 23 regional networks that could provide specialist services to save premature and low birth weight babies.  But the Department of Health did not issue instructions for the units to be adequately staffed.

Source: John Carvel, "Babies dying due to NHS confusion," The Guardian, December 18, 2007.

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