A HEALTH board at the centre of allegations of stretched resources in a hospital neonatal unit following the deaths of two babies said last night that it had an “appropriate” level of staffing.
NHS Lanarkshire said caring for babies at Wishaw General Hospital was its “top priority” and it was “very rare” for its neonatal unit to be at full capacity.
It comes as a whistleblower expressed concerns about staff levels after the deaths – less than three weeks apart – claiming nurses had to tend to multiple babies.
The staff member said some poorly infants had been moved from intensive care to other areas of the unit to cope with the influx of newborns, describing the situation as having reached “crisis point”.
The parents of one baby who died aged just seven weeks in the unit described the care of their son as akin to “musical chairs”.
The situation at the Lanarkshire hospital has been highlighted following the death of Junior MacLean, who was born 12 weeks premature on Hogmanay last year along with his twin brother, Jay Jay.
Junior died on 19 February. Among the causes were blood poisoning and suspected necrotising enterocolitis, a condition which causes tissue damage in the bowel.
His father, John, said that although Junior and Jay Jay were given one-to-one nursing for the first few days of their lives, they were soon being looked after by one nurse. After four weeks, he said, Junior was being repeatedly relocated around the unit – at one point being cared for by one nurse who was looking after three other babies.
Mr MacLean said: “Junior was moved at least ten times. It was like musical chairs and we were wondering where he would be each day. But there was no big change in his condition.”
Another baby, aged five weeks, died at the hospital on 10 March, also after contracting sepsis, a form of blood poisoning. External microbiological testing later showed that no cross-infection occurred and the two deaths were unrelated.
One anonymous member of staff said the demands on nurses had reached a critical level.
The employee told a national newspaper: “We are at crisis point and it was a matter of time before we had cases like these. It can be like musical chairs in the ward. The least-sick baby gets moved out – even if that child is still very ill – to make room for a baby who is even more ill. It shouldn’t be like that.”
Margaret Watt, chair of the Scotland Patients Association, said it was “paramount” that infants requiring intensive care treatment were looked after by a dedicated nurse.
Dr Sam Ibhanesebhor, consultant neonatologist at Wishaw General, said the health board offered its “heartfelt sympathies” to the two families who had lost their babies.
He said: “The clinical facilities we have in the unit are excellent, as are the staff, and we are concerned at any suggestion that we would compromise the safety of any baby in our care.”
Susan Stewart, head of midwifery services at NHS Lanarkshire, said a recent review had confirmed it has the “appropriate number of skilled staff within the unit.”
She added: “There have been no reduction in staffing levels and where there have been any requests to cover staffing absence this has always been agreed.
“We have 29 cots within the neonatal unit and running at full capacity is very rare.”