Mortality rates for neonatal babies twice as high in some areas

Premature babies in parts of the West Midlands are dying at twice the rate of those in other parts of the country, a new report suggests.

Mortality rates among babies born between 24 and 31 weeks were 10% in Staffordshire, Shropshire and the Black Country, the highest in the country.

Between July 2015 and June 2018, 107 pre-term babies out of 1,054 in the region (10.2%) died before they were discharged from hospital or reached 44 weeks post-menstrual age (PMA).

PMA is the gestational age, plus the time elapsed since birth.

The lowest mortality rates were recorded in the East of England, where 93 premature babies out of 1,900 (4.9%) died before reaching the same milestone, according to figures from the National Neonatal Audit Programme by the Royal College of Paediatrics.

Across England, Scotland and Wales, the health of 22,607 neonatal babies was analysed over the three-year period.

Of these, 1,538 died before their hospital discharge or 44-week PMA, an average of 6.8%.

Approximately one in seven babies born in England, Scotland and Wales each year needs neonatal care because they are born too early or have a low birth weight.

The same report found nurse staffing levels on neonatal units were well below national recommendations, and 605 new nurses would be needed to plug the gap.

In 2018, only 64% of shifts were found to have the recommended staffing numbers, and 44% had sufficient numbers of staff qualified in the relevant speciality.

According to the Department of Health, staffing should be one nurse per intensive care neonatal baby, one nurse per two high dependency babies, and one nurse per four special care babies.

In neonatal intensive care units and high dependency units, 80% of staff should be registered nurses, and in special care this should be 70%, according to the same guidelines.

On any shift, 70% of registered nursing staff should have a specialist neonatal qualification.

The figures come weeks after babies and mothers were revealed to have died as a result of a “toxic” culture at one Midlands NHS Trust.

A report leaked to The Independent in November showed that children were also left with permanent disability amid sub-standard care at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust.

A Government inquiry is looking into 270 cases at the trust between 1979 and the present day, including 22 stillbirths and three deaths during pregnancy.