Aims. The paper presents an overview of a multi-dimensional, prospective, comparative 5-year audit of the quality of the neonatal care provided by a maternity unit in the UK delivering 2000 babies a year, where all neonatal care after 1995 was provided by advanced neonatal nurse practitioners, in relation to that provided by a range of other medically staffed comparator units.
Methods. The audit includes 11 separate comparative studies supervised by a panel of independent external advisors. Data on intrapartum and neonatal mortality is reported. A review of resuscitation at birth, and a two-tier confidential inquiry into sentinel events in six units were carried out. The reliability of the routine predischarge neonatal examination was studied and, in particular, the recognition of congenital heart disease. A review of the quality of postdischarge letters was undertaken alongside an interview survey to elicit parental views on care provision. An audit of all hospital readmissions within 28 days of birth is reported. Other areas of study include management of staff stress, perceived adequacy of the training of nurse practitioners coming into post, and an assessment of unit costs.
Results. Intrapartum and neonatal death among women with a singleton pregnancy originally booked for delivery in Ashington fell 39% between 1991–1995 and 1996–2000 (5·12 vs. 3·11 deaths per 1000 births); the decline for the whole region was 27% (4·10 vs. 2·99). By all other indicators the quality of care in the nurse-managed unit was as good as, or better than, that in the medically staffed comparator units.
Conclusion. An appropriately trained, stable team with a store of experience can deliver cot-side care of a higher quality than staff rostered to this task for a few months to gain experience, and this is probably more important than their medical or nursing background. Factors limiting the on-site availability of medical staff with paediatric expertise do not need to dictate the future disposition of maternity services.