New research from the University of Adelaide shows that nurses working in neonatal intensive care feel poorly equipped to provide the intense emotional support needed by parents, and they require more training and improved facilities to carry out their work effectively.
These are some of the findings in a paper published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing, the first paper of its kind to explore the nurses' own views of their role in neonatal care and the emotional support they provide.
"Nurses working in neonatal intensive care have high emotional demands placed upon them, in addition to providing a high level of care to premature babies," says lead author Dr Melanie Turner, who conducted this research as part of her PhD in the University of Adelaide's School of Psychology.
"Parent support has become a core part of the nurses' role, but many of them have not been trained for the level of mental health care or emotional support required. They feel they need additional training to be able to assist families in a meaningful and consistent way.
"Also, while some staff are very experienced in the role, neonatal units often have junior staff working on placement, because they're still learning the specialisation of neonatal intensive care nursing. These junior staff can find it difficult to support families who are experiencing an extremely emotional time in their lives," Dr Turner says.
Figures show that 20,700 or 8% of all Australian babies were born prematurely in 2008. Dr Turner says many hospitals simply don't have the physical space to cope with such large numbers of premature babies.
"An issue that is common among the neonatal nurses is the lack of physical space to work in. Many of the newer hospitals are better equipped, but it's the bigger, inner-city hospitals that handle the most extreme cases, and these are often constrained for space," Dr Turner says.
Other issues identified by nurses include: movements of staff from shift to shift leading to inconsistent communication with parents; language and cultural barriers; busy workloads and rapid patient turnover.
"These issues are very real concerns for nurses and the level of care they're able to provide," Dr Turner says.
"Neonatal nurses view their jobs as rewarding but difficult. We hope the recommendations made in this paper will help lead to improved support for nurses, and ultimately for the families who have special care needs at this time."