NHS services designed to assist sick and premature babies are being drastically underfunded according to child health experts.
A survey conducted by the charity Bliss indicated that neonatal transport services in the UK were both understaffed and under-resourced.
The charity asserts that some babies are being forced to wait for too long for what is ultimately life-saving care.
Defending the current situation, NHS England asserts that care is comparable to any other European nation, despite a growing demand for such services.
Nearly 16,000 babies are transferred between hospitals in the UK each year using 17 dedicated transfer services.
The vehicles involved have incubators, resuscitation equipment and a specially trained staff on board to ensure that children’s needs are met.
But staffing problems are clearly prominent in the service, with Bliss finding that over 50% of transfer services in the UK suffered from significant gaps in the rotas of staffing.
Prof Neena Modi, leader of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, indicated her belief that staff shortages in the service have been an issue for a significant period of time, and that neonatal services have been forced to contend with substantial funding problems.
“Delay in transfer can seriously adversely affect a baby’s chances of a good outcome, so this is completely unacceptable for a modern health service,” Modi commented.
The report discovered that nearly 1,000 babies across the UK were transferred every year because neonatal units did not have capacity for them.
The survey also found that eight of the units operative in England were unable to transfer babies within one hour of receiving a call.
This is the standard operating procedure according to NHS guidelines.
The authors of the report suggest that the government and the NHS should work together to resolve shortages in staff, and invest more money in services to ensure that “every baby has the best chance of survival and quality of life”.
Responding to the damning evidence included in the report, a spokesperson for NHS England defended the performance of neonatal care in the health service.
“Despite increasing demand, studies consistently show standards of NHS neonatal care are equivalent to other European countries. We continue to work across the health service to improve neonatal services, ensuring every premature or sick baby achieves the best outcomes and care within the resources available.”
A spokesman on behalf of the Scottish Ambulance Service also asserted the belief of the organisation that it is delivering an adequate service.
“We operate with dedicated neonatal ambulances, as well as Scottish Ambulance Service planes and helicopters, delivering high quality clinical care for sick babies in Scotland.”