NEONATAL mortality rates in this region are among the highest in England and Wales, a new report reveals.

Mortality in very premature babies – those born at 24 to 31 weeks' gestation – was measured at neonatal networks nationally.

The rate in Yorkshire and the Humber was found to be 7.8 per cent, compared to an England and Wales average of 6.8 per cent.

Lowest rates – 4.9 per cent – were in North Central and North East London, and the highest – 9.8 per cent – in Staffordshire, Shropshire and the Black Country.

The national neonatal audit programme (NNAP) also found that Yorkshire and the Humber fell short of the nationally-recommended number of nurses on neonatal units.

Just under 68 per cent of neonatal shifts were staffed according to the guidelines – which state there should be a nurse to baby ratio of at least 1:1 for babies receiving intensive care, 1:2 for high-dependency care and 1:4 for special care.

And only 46 per cent of neonatal shifts had the recommended number of nurses "qualified in speciality" to care for the babies on units.

To have a sufficient number of nurses on all shifts, the Yorkshire and Humber Operational Delivery Network – which includes Airedale Hospital – would need its nursing staff to work an additional 5,705 shifts.

Bliss, the premature and sick baby charity, describes the variation across the country in neonatal mortality rates as "unwarranted and deeply concerning".

Justin Irwin, for the charity, said: "The death of a baby has a devastating impact on the families behind these statistics and we encourage networks to implement recommendations in the NNAP report without delay.

"However, this must be underpinned by swift action from the Government to ensure neonatal care is sufficiently resourced so that all pre-term or sick babies receive the expert care they need. This is vital for every baby to have the best chance of survival and quality of life."

West Yorkshire & Harrogate Health and Care Partnership told the Keighley News that extensive work is being carried out, involving individual NHS trusts and the Yorkshire and Humber Operational Delivery Network, to provide "safer and ever improving" maternity and neonatal care.

A spokesman added: "The West Yorkshire and Harrogate Local Maternity System shares learning and good practice to improve neonatal and maternity outcomes and standardise care – for example, improving the prevention and prediction of pre-term births, as well as early treatment of those babies born pre-term.

"This includes adopting standardised guidelines for women at risk of – or in – pre-term labour, bringing in evidence-based tests across all trusts. There is also a focus on very pre-term babies being born in the right neonatal setting.

"The Local Maternity System is also working with a wide range of services, women and families to promote physical, mental health and wellbeing so that every woman – where possible – can experience a healthy pregnancy. This includes reducing smoking in pregnancy, healthy maternal weight and zero alcohol consumption. This will be achieved through targeting support and interventions to meet the needs of women and their families.

"Part of the solution to improving outcomes for mums and babies lies before and beyond the maternity system and is centred on improving people’s quality of life and reducing inequalities.

"A key priority is to ensure women, and families, are prepared for a healthy pregnancy and importantly, a healthy baby."