The leader of the Welsh Conservatives today secured a commitment from the First Minister of Wales that all neonatal units in Wales would be staffed by an appropriate number of nurses by 2021.
A report published by the charity Bliss last week revealed that only 20% of all neonatal units in Wales had enough nurses to staff their cots, in line with national standards.
The report - which received the backing of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) - highlighted that half the nursing shortfall at neonatal units is due to insufficient funding.
Carwyn Jones’ commitment to ensure proper levels of staffing by the end of the Assembly came following a challenge from Andrew RT Davies during a First Minister’s Questions session – the last before the summer recess.
With 40% of mothers of premature babies affected by postnatal depression, Mr Davies raised concerns that only five out of 11 neonatal units in Wales were able to offer any psychological support, and challenged the First Minister on what he intended to do in order to remedy this.
The First Minister did not come forward with any specific commitments as to how he intended to plug the gap in this absence of care, nor did he point to a timeline when improvements could be expected.
Notably absent from the First Minister’s response to Mr Davies’ questions was any mention of the highly diluted Nurse Staffing Act, which is clearly failing to improve neonatal services – this betraying his lack of confidence in the legislation.
Speaking outside the Assembly Chamber, leader of the Welsh Conservatives Andrew RT Davies said:
"Around 35,000 babies are born each year in Wales, and 9-10% of these will need admission to a neonatal unit. These babies are extremely vulnerable and need the highest level of care.
"Last week’s report indicates that as many as four in every five of these babies are not receiving a sufficient level of care, and that staff are spread too thinly.
"This is simply not good enough and places babies, who are already in fragile health, at an unacceptable level of risk.
"It is therefore welcome that the First Minister has today given his commitment to ensuring that all of Wales’ neonatal units will be properly staffed by 2021.
"I urge him to now bring forward a roadmap towards this date, which will allow the public to track the progress of this pledge to ensure that he doesn’t waver from this commitment."
He added: "My own wife has spent a career working in the health service with mothers and their babies, and she has impressed on me the importance of providing psychological support for new mothers.
"I would urge the First Minister to give serious consideration to directing much-needed funding in this area."