'Shortfalls' in care of sick and premature babies

new born baby in an incubator Image copyright Thinkstock

The Welsh NHS needs to tackle a number of "shortfalls" in the care being provided for sick and premature newborn babies, an annual audit has concluded.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health's (RCPCH) analysis showed the Welsh NHS was performing relatively poorly in a number of key areas.

It suggested Wales was lagging behind in providing follow-up assessments.

The Welsh Government said there had been steady improvements.

The audit, based on 2015 figures, said premature babies had a follow-up appointment aged two in only 31% of cases - compared to 60% across Wales, England and Scotland.

The report also showed 14% of eligible babies in Wales were not screened on time for retinopathy - a potentially serious eye condition which is a complication of being born prematurely.

It said 8% did not appear to get screened at all for the condition - the average across the three nations was 2%.

At the time of discharge, 43% of eligible babies in Wales were feeding with mother's milk - a decrease from 46% in 2014. Breast milk contains antibodies that can help premature babies fight off infections.

In 20% of cases, parents in Wales did not have a consultation with a senior member of the neonatal team within 24 hours of a baby being admitted, though the average was 12% across the board.

But the neonatal network in Wales appears to be performing relatively well in making sure antenatal steroids are given to mothers before giving birth prematurely - which reduces the chance of breathing difficulties and other serious complications.

A Welsh Government spokesman said: "Welsh units are performing comparably in most areas and within the expected standards for a number of the audit measures.

"All neonatal units in Wales will need to consider the findings of this report and develop local action plans to address any identified shortfalls in standards."

It said an initiative to improve breastfeeding for neonates had already started.

Neonatal units in Wales are performing close to the average in making sure babies have the correct body temperature.

Despite the concerns, the RCPCH said many units in Wales were providing "good care" but urged them to work in partnership to drive up standards.

Dr Roshan Adappa, clinical representative for Wales on the audit project board, said: "Wales has the lowest rates for feeding with a mother's milk.

"It has the highest percentage of babies for whom no eye screening data at all was entered and has, by some way, the lowest rates for recording of follow-up data at a child's two-year health check."

The Welsh Government launched a policy on Monday to ensure every child up to the age of seven receives consistent and universal health services in Wales.

In July this year the charity Bliss said neonatal services across Wales were overstretched and more than half did not have enough medical staff to meet national standards.

The Welsh Government said £85m was being spent on training staff.

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