A lack of nursing staff in the UK is stretching services that care for sick and premature babies to breaking point, a report suggests.
A new BLISS survey of 195 UK neonatal units has found that in the last year, baby units have struggled to reach even the minimum level of nursing staff.
Low staff levels mean that some units are forced to refuse new admissions for considerable periods of time, leading mothers and babies to travel long distances to search for a unit with the appropriate facilities.
The report found that one in eight neonatal units operate at 100% occupancy level even though half are operating with 50% of their minimum staff numbers.
Neonatal services in the UK are still 2,600 nurses short of the numbers needed to meet recommended standards, this is 37% of the current workforce.
Andy Cole, chief executive of BLISS, said: "BLISS is concerned that the government still gives less priority to intensive care for babies than for adults and children, even though all the evidence points to a neonatal service that is on the brink of collapse.
"The Department of Health's recent commitment to provide extra midwives is a step in the right direction for maternity services.
"We now need to see the same commitment to ensuring that there are adequate numbers of trained neonatal nurses for those babies born sick or premature."