HEALTH bosses are spending £240,000 this year recruiting nurses to Gwent neonatal units, amid ongoing concerns of what a new report calls "a significant shortfall" across Wales.

The investment by Aneurin Bevan Health Board is intended to begin to address a shortage at the Royal Gwent and Nevill Hall Hospital neonatal units of almost 20 specialist nursing staff.

Wales-wide, such units are 83 nurses short of being able to meet all-Wales Neonatal Standards, which demand one-to-one nursing care for babies in intensive care, with ratios of one nurse to two babies in high dependency care, and one-to-four in low dependency care.

A new report by the Assembly's children and young people committee, following a neonatal care inquiry, concludes this is not happening everywhere, particularly in top (Level Three) level intensive care units.

Problems are most acute in north Wales, but there are shortages across Wales.

Aneurin Bevan Health Board's spending proposal for Gwent is designed to recruit 6.2 whole time equivalent (WTE) registered nurses and 1.6 WTE unregistered/nursery nurses to neonatal services during 2012/13.

This would begin to plug a staffing gap of 18.7 WTE registered nurses and 4.76 WTE unregistered/nursery nurses.

Children and young people committee member and Torfaen AM Lynne Neagle, feels inquiry evidence given by Aneurin Bevan Health Board was "much more reassuring than others" but more must be done in Gwent and across Wales.

The Assembly report also raises concerns about nurse education and training, and difficulties in releasing nurses for training because units are so busy.

Other issues include medical staffing problems, cot numbers, inappropriate distribution of critical care cots, and cot-blocking, with sick babies often in the wrong type of neonatal cot because of a local lack of suitable alternatives.

'Too many small neonatal units' -  inquiry

ANOTHER issue raised by the inquiry - and by a Wales neonatal capacity review earlier this year - is a belief among experts that there are too many small units.

An Aneurin Bevan Health Board report in March warned too, that "it is clear the sustainability and of neonatal services in Wales, and preservation or enhancement of neonatal services, will be absolutely dependent on reducing the number of units."

The health board plans a single neonatal service at its proposed Specialist and Critical Care Centre, but that is several years away. How such services are delivered in the meantime remains to be decided.