Aim: To assess the ability of nurse practitioners to manage the care of all babies requiring resuscitation at birth in a unit without on site medical assistance.
Method: A prospective review, and selective external audit, of the case records of all 14 572 babies born in a maternity unit in the north of England during the first eight years after nurse practitioners replaced resident paediatric staff in 1996.
Results: Every non-malformed baby with an audible heart beat at the start of delivery was successfully resuscitated. Twenty term babies and 41 preterm babies were intubated at birth. Eight term babies only responded after acidosis or hypovolaemia was corrected following umbilical vein catheterisation; in each case the catheter was in place within six minutes of birth. Early grade 2–3 neonatal encephalopathy occurred with much the same frequency (0.12%) as in other recent studies. Independent external cross validated review found no case of substandard care during the first hour of life.
Conclusion: The practitioners successfully managed all the problems coming their way from the time of appointment. There was no evidence that their skill decreased over time even though, on average, they only found themselves undertaking laryngeal intubation once a year. It remains to be shown that this level of competence can be replicated in other settings.
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Published online first 30 August 2005
Competing interests: LCC has worked in the unit where this work was undertaken since 1998. ENH was the first to suggest that nurse practitioners might be used to replace resident medical staff when the unit first faced closure in 1993, but he had retired before the practitioners came into post in 1996.
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