Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Nursing workload in UK tertiary neonatal units
  1. D W A Milligan1,
  2. P Carruthers2,
  3. B Mackley3,
  4. M P Ward Platt1,
  5. Y Collingwood1,
  6. L Wooler1,
  7. J Gibbons1,
  8. E Draper4,
  9. B N Manktelow4
  1. 1
    Newcastle Neonatal Service, Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
  2. 2
    Northumberland Care Trust, Morpeth, Northumberland, UK
  3. 3
    Mackley Management Consulting Services, South Shields, UK
  4. 4
    University of Leicester, Leicester, UK
  1. David Milligan, Newcastle Neonatal Service, Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK; d.w.a.milligan{at}


Background: Neonatal intensive care requires adequate numbers of trained neonatal nurses to provide safe, effective care, but existing research into the relationship between nurse numbers and the care needs of babies is over 10 years old. Since then, the preterm population and treatment practices have changed considerably.

Aims: To validate the dependency categories of the British Association of Perinatal Medicine (BAPM, 2001) and to revalidate the Northern Region categories (NR, 1993) in relation to contemporary nursing workload.

Setting: Three tertiary neonatal intensive care services in England.

Methods: Nursing activity around each baby was captured every 10 min by direct observations by trained observers. Time spent on each nursing activity was related to the baby’s dependency category and the nurse’s grade.

Results: Both scales detected differences between categories. Discrimination between individual categories was improved when nasal continuous positive airway pressure (nCPAP) was distinguished from ventilation and combined with BAPM2/NRA. On this revised four-point scale, babies in BAPM1/NRA occupied nursing time for a median of 56 min per hour (IQR 48–70), those on nCPAP or in BAPM2/NRB for 36 min, (27–42), those in BAPM3/NRC for 20–22 min (15–33) and those in BAPM4/NRD for 31–32 min (24–36). The NR scale was easier to apply and had greater interobserver agreement (98.5%) than the BAPM scale (93%). All categories attracted more time compared to 1993.

Conclusions: Both scales predict average nursing workload. A revised categorisation which separates nCPAP from ventilation is more robust and practical. Nursing time attracted in all categories has increased since 1993.

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.


  • Competing interests: None.