BACKGROUND: Due to low care utilization, a complex intervention was done for two years to optimize the Ethiopian Health Extension Program. Improved quality of the integrated community case management services was an intermediate outcome of this intervention through community education and mobilization, capacity building of health workers, and strengthening of district ownership and accountability of sick child services. We evaluated the association between the intervention and the health extension workers' ability to correctly classify common childhood illnesses in four regions of Ethiopia. METHODS: Baseline and endline assessments were done in 2016 and 2018 in intervention and comparison areas in four regions of Ethiopia. Ill children aged 2 to 59 months were mobilized to visit health posts for an assessment that was followed by re-examination. We analyzed sensitivity, specificity, and difference-in-difference of correct classification with multilevel mixed logistic regression in intervention and comparison areas at baseline and endline. RESULTS: Health extensions workers' consultations with ill children were observed in intervention (n = 710) and comparison areas (n = 615). At baseline, re-examination of the children showed that in intervention areas, health extension workers' sensitivity for fever or malaria was 54%, 68% for respiratory infections, 90% for diarrheal diseases, and 34% for malnutrition. At endline, it was 40% for fever or malaria, 49% for respiratory infections, 85% for diarrheal diseases, and 48% for malnutrition. Specificity was higher (89-100%) for all childhood illnesses. Difference-in-differences was 6% for correct classification of fever or malaria [aOR = 1.45 95% CI: 0.81-2.60], 4% for respiratory tract infection [aOR = 1.49 95% CI: 0.81-2.74], and 5% for diarrheal diseases [aOR = 1.74 95% CI: 0.77-3.92]. CONCLUSION: This study revealed that the Optimization of Health Extension Program intervention, which included training, supportive supervision, and performance reviews of health extension workers, was not associated with an improved classification of childhood illnesses by these Ethiopian primary health care workers. TRIAL REGISTRATION: ISRCTN12040912, http://www.isrctn.com/ISRCTN12040912.
The Covid-19 and other recent pandemics has highlighted existing weakness in health systems across the Latin-America and the Caribbean (LAC) region to effectively prepare for and respond to Public Health Emergencies. It has been stated that quality of care will be among the most influential factors on Covid 19 mortality rates and low systems performance is the common case in these countries. More comprehensive and system level strategies are required to address the challenges. These must focus on redesigning and strengthening health systems to make them more resilient to the changing needs of populations and based on quality improvement methods that have shown rigorously evaluated positive effects in previous local and regional experiences. A call to action is being made by the Latin American Consortium for Quality, Patient Safety and Innovation (CLICSS) and they provide specific recommendations for decision makers.
This commentary article addresses a critical issue facing Kenya and other Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMIC): how to remedy deficits in hospitals' nursing workforce. Would employing health care assistants (HCAs) provide a partial solution? This article first gives a brief introduction to the Kenyan context and then explores the development of workforce roles to support nurses in Europe to highlight the diversity of these roles. Our introduction pinpoints that pressures to maintain or restrict costs have led to a wide variety of formal and informal task shifting from nurses to some form of HCA in the EU with differences noted in issues of appropriate skill mix, training, accountability, and regulation of HCA. Next, we draw from a suite of recent studies in hospitals in Kenya which illustrate nursing practices in a highly pressurized context. The studies took place in neo-natal wards in Kenyan hospitals between 2015 and 2018 and in a system with no legal or regulatory basis for task shifting to HCAs. We proffer data on why and how nurses informally delegate tasks to others in the public sector and the decision-making processes of nurses and frame this evidence in the specific contextual conditions. In the conclusion, the paper aims to deepen the debates on developing human resources for health. We argue that despite the urgent pressures to address glaring workforce deficits in Kenya and other LMIC, caution needs to be exercised in implementing changes to nursing practices through the introduction of HCAs. The evidence from EU suggests that the rapid growth in the employment of HCA has created crucial issues which need addressing. These include clearly defining the scope of practice and developing the appropriate skill mix between nurses and HCAs to match the specific health system context. Moreover, we suggest efforts to develop and implement such roles should be carefully designed and rigorously evaluated to inform continuing policy development.
BACKGROUND: Quality of care depends on system, facility, provider, and client-level factors. We aimed at examining structural and process quality of services for sick children and its association with client satisfaction at health facilities in Ethiopia. METHODS: Data from the Ethiopia Service Provision Assessment Plus (SPA+) survey 2014 were used. Measures of quality were assessed based on the Donabedian framework: structure, process, and outcome. A total of 1908 mothers or caretakers were interviewed and their child consultations were observed. Principal component analysis was used to construct quality of care indices including a structural composite score, a process composite score, and a client satisfaction score. Multilevel mixed linear regression was used to analyze the association between structural and process factors with client satisfaction. RESULT: Among children diagnosed with suspected pneumonia, respiratory rate was counted in 56% and temperature was checked in 77% of the cases. A majority of children (92%) diagnosed with fever had their temperature taken. Only 3% of children with fever were either referred or admitted, and 60% received antibiotics. Among children diagnosed with malaria, 51% were assessed for all three Integrated Management of Childhood Illnesses (IMCI) main symptoms, and 4% were assessed for all three general danger signs. Providers assessed dehydration in 54% of children with diarrhea with dehydration, 17% of these children were admitted or referred to another facility, and Oral Rehydration Solution was prescribed for 67% while none received intravenous fluids. The number of basic amenities in the facility was negatively associated with the clients' satisfaction. Private facilities, when the providers had got training for care of sick children in the past 2 years, had higher client satisfaction. There was no statistical association between structure, process composite indicators and client satisfaction. CONCLUSION: The assessment of sick children was of low quality, with many missing procedures when comparing with IMCI guidelines. In spite of this, most clients were satisfied with the services they received. Structural and process composite indicators were not associated with client's satisfaction. These findings highlight the need to assess other dimensions of quality of care besides structure and process that may influence client satisfaction.
BACKGROUND: The use of appropriate and relevant nurse-sensitive indicators provides an opportunity to demonstrate the unique contributions of nurses to patient outcomes. The aim of this work was to develop relevant metrics to assess the quality of nursing care in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) where they are scarce. MAIN BODY: We conducted a scoping review using EMBASE, CINAHL and MEDLINE databases of studies published in English focused on quality nursing care and with identified measurement methods. Indicators identified were reviewed by a diverse panel of nursing stakeholders in Kenya to develop a contextually appropriate set of nurse-sensitive indicators for Kenyan hospitals specific to the five major inpatient disciplines. We extracted data on study characteristics, nursing indicators reported, location and the tools used. A total of 23 articles quantifying the quality of nursing care services met the inclusion criteria. All studies identified were from high-income countries. Pooled together, 159 indicators were reported in the reviewed studies with 25 identified as the most commonly reported. Through the stakeholder consultative process, 52 nurse-sensitive indicators were recommended for Kenyan hospitals. CONCLUSIONS: Although nurse-sensitive indicators are increasingly used in high-income countries to improve quality of care, there is a wide heterogeneity in the way indicators are defined and interpreted. Whilst some indicators were regarded as useful by a Kenyan expert panel, contextual differences prompted them to recommend additional new indicators to improve the evaluations of nursing care provision in Kenyan hospitals and potentially similar LMIC settings. Taken forward through implementation, refinement and adaptation, the proposed indicators could be more standardised and may provide a common base to establish national or regional professional learning networks with the common goal of achieving high-quality care through quality improvement and learning.
Large disparities in maternal and neonatal mortality exist between low- and high-income countries. Mothers and babies continue to die at high rates in many countries despite substantial increases in facility birth. One reason for this may be the current design of health systems in most low-income countries where, unlike in high-income countries, a substantial proportion of births occur in primary care facilities that cannot offer definitive care for complications. We argue that the current inequity in care for childbirth is a global double standard that limits progress on maternal and newborn survival. We propose that health systems need to be redesigned to shift all deliveries to hospitals or other advanced care facilities to bring care in line with global best practice. Health system redesign will require investing in high-quality hospitals with excellent midwifery and obstetric care, boosting quality of primary care clinics for antenatal, postnatal, and newborn care, decreasing access and financial barriers, and mobilizing populations to demand high-quality care. Redesign is a structural reform that is contingent on political leadership that envisions a health system designed to deliver high-quality, respectful care to all women giving birth. Getting redesign right will require focused investments, local design and adaptation, and robust evaluation.
Objective: To estimate the use of hospitals for four essential primary care services offered in health centres in low- and middle-income countries and to explore differences in quality between hospitals and health centres. Methods: We extracted data from all demographic and health surveys conducted since 2010 on the type of facilities used for obtaining contraceptives, routine antenatal care and care for minor childhood diarrhoea and cough or fever. Using mixed-effects logistic regression models we assessed associations between hospital use and individual and country-level covariates. We assessed competence of care based on the receipt of essential clinical actions during visits. We also analysed three indicators of user experience from countries with available service provision assessment survey data. Findings: On average across 56 countries, public hospitals were used as the sole source of care by 16.9% of 126 012 women who obtained contraceptives, 23.1% of 418 236 women who received routine antenatal care, 19.9% of 47 677 children with diarrhoea and 18.5% of 82 082 children with fever or cough. Hospital use was more common in richer countries with higher expenditures on health per capita and among urban residents and wealthier, better-educated women. Antenatal care quality was higher in hospitals in 44 countries. In a subset of eight countries, people using hospitals tended to spend more, report more problems and be somewhat less satisfied with the care received. Conclusion: As countries work towards achieving ambitious health goals, they will need to assess care quality and user preferences to deliver effective primary care services that people want to use.
BACKGROUND: Evidence for the effectiveness of continuous quality improvement (CQI) in resource-poor settings is very limited. We aimed to establish the effects of CQI on quality of antenatal HIV care in primary care clinics in rural South Africa. METHODS AND FINDINGS: We conducted a stepped-wedge cluster-randomised controlled trial (RCT) comparing CQI to usual standard of antenatal care (ANC) in 7 nurse-led, public-sector primary care clinics-combined into 6 clusters-over 8 steps and 19 months. Clusters randomly switched from comparator to intervention on pre-specified dates until all had rolled over to the CQI intervention. Investigators and clusters were blinded to randomisation until 2 weeks prior to each step. The intervention was delivered by trained CQI mentors and included standard CQI tools (process maps, fishbone diagrams, run charts, Plan-Do-Study-Act [PDSA] cycles, and action learning sessions). CQI mentors worked with health workers, including nurses and HIV lay counsellors. The mentors used the standard CQI tools flexibly, tailored to local clinic needs. Health workers were the direct recipients of the intervention, whereas the ultimate beneficiaries were pregnant women attending ANC. Our 2 registered primary endpoints were viral load (VL) monitoring (which is critical for elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV [eMTCT] and the health of pregnant women living with HIV) and repeat HIV testing (which is necessary to identify and treat women who seroconvert during pregnancy). All pregnant women who attended their first antenatal visit at one of the 7 study clinics and were ≥18 years old at delivery were eligible for endpoint assessment. We performed intention-to-treat (ITT) analyses using modified Poisson generalised linear mixed effects models. We estimated effect sizes with time-step fixed effects and clinic random effects (Model 1). In separate models, we added a nested random clinic-time step interaction term (Model 2) or individual random effects (Model 3). Between 15 July 2015 and 30 January 2017, 2,160 participants with 13,212 ANC visits (intervention n = 6,877, control n = 6,335) were eligible for ITT analysis. No adverse events were reported. Median age at first booking was 25 years (interquartile range [IQR] 21 to 30), and median parity was 1 (IQR 0 to 2). HIV prevalence was 47% (95% CI 42% to 53%). In Model 1, CQI significantly increased VL monitoring (relative risk [RR] 1.38, 95% CI 1.21 to 1.57, p < 0.001) but did not improve repeat HIV testing (RR 1.00, 95% CI 0.88 to 1.13, p = 0.958). These results remained essentially the same in both Model 2 and Model 3. Limitations of our study include that we did not establish impact beyond the duration of the relatively short study period of 19 months, and that transition steps may have been too short to achieve the full potential impact of the CQI intervention. CONCLUSIONS: We found that CQI can be effective at increasing quality of primary care in rural Africa. Policy makers should consider CQI as a routine intervention to boost quality of primary care in rural African communities. Implementation research should accompany future CQI use to elucidate mechanisms of action and to identify factors supporting long-term success. TRIAL REGISTRATION: This trial is registered at ClinicalTrials.gov under registration number NCT02626351.
There are global calls for research to support health system strengthening in low-income and middle-income countries (LMICs). To examine the nature and magnitude of gaps in access and quality of inpatient neonatal care provided to a largely poor urban population, we combined multiple epidemiological and health services methodologies. Conducting this work and generating findings was made possible through extensive formal and informal stakeholder engagement linked to flexibility in the research approach while keeping overall goals in mind. We learnt that 45% of sick newborns requiring hospital care in Nairobi probably do not access a suitable facility and that public hospitals provide 70% of care accessed with private sector care either poor quality or very expensive. Direct observations of care and ethnographic work show that critical nursing workforce shortages prevent delivery of high-quality care in high volume, low-cost facilities and likely threaten patient safety and nurses' well-being. In these challenging settings, routines and norms have evolved as collective coping strategies so health professionals maintain some sense of achievement in the face of impossible demands. Thus, the health system sustains a functional veneer that belies the stresses undermining quality, compassionate care. No one intervention will dramatically reduce neonatal mortality in this urban setting. In the short term, a substantial increase in the number of health workers, especially nurses, is required. This must be combined with longer term investment to address coverage gaps through redesign of services around functional tiers with improved information systems that support effective governance of public, private and not-for-profit sectors.
BACKGROUND: Most health systems provide the most specialized, and presumably also the highest quality of care at a central level. This study assessed parental satisfaction and its determinants in the context of neonatal care in a provincial as well as a national hospital of Vietnam. METHODS: In this cross-sectional quantitative study, parents of 340 preterm infants admitted to neonatal care units of a national and a provincial hospital in 2018 were interviewed using structured questionnaires. Unadjusted and adjusted linear regression models were used to assess the relationship between parental satisfaction and hospital rank. RESULTS: The mean parental satisfaction score was 3.74 at the provincial, and 3.56 at the national hospital. These satisfaction differences persisted when parent and child characteristics were adjusted for in multivariate analysis. Longer length of stay and worsening infant health status were associated with parents reporting lower levels of satisfaction with the quality of care being provided at the healthcare facility. CONCLUSIONS: This study suggests that parents of preterm infants admitted in a provincial hospital were more satisfied with the quality of care received than those in a specialized national hospital. Length of stay and infant health status were the two most important determinants of level of parental satisfaction.
BACKGROUND: According to the Donabedian model, the assessment for the quality of care includes three dimensions. These are structure, process, and outcome. Therefore, the present study aimed at assessing the structural quality of Antenatal care (ANC) service provision in Ethiopian health facilities. METHODS: Data were obtained from the 2018 Ethiopian Service Availability and Readiness Assessment (SARA) survey. The SARA was a cross-sectional facility-based assessment conducted to capture health facility service availability and readiness in Ethiopia. A total of 764 health facilities were sampled in the 9 regions and 2 city administrations of the country. The availability of equipment, supplies, medicine, health worker's training and availability of guidelines were assessed. Data were collected from October-December 2017. We run a multiple linear regression model to identify predictors of health facility readiness for Antenatal care service. The level of significance was determined at a p-value < 0.05. RESULT: Among the selected health facilities, 80.5% of them offered Antenatal care service. However, the availability of specific services was very low. The availability of tetanus toxoid vaccination, folic acid, iron supplementation, and monitoring of hypertension disorder was, 67.7, 65.6, 68.6, and 75.1%, respectively. The overall mean availability among the ten tracer items that are necessary to provide quality Antenatal care services was 50%. In the multiple linear regression model, health centers, health posts and clinics scored lower Antenatal care service readiness compared to hospitals. The overall readiness index score was lower for private health facilities (β = - 0.047, 95% CI: (- 0.1, - 0.004). The readiness score had no association with the facility settings (Urban/Rural) (p-value > 0.05). Facilities in six regions except Dire Dawa had (β = 0.067, 95% CI: (0.004, 0.129) lower readiness score than facilities in Tigray region (p-value < 0.015). CONCLUSION: This analysis provides evidence of the gaps in structural readiness of health facilities to provide quality Antenatal care services. Key and essential supplies for quality Antenatal care service provision were missed in many of the health facilities. Guaranteeing properly equipped and staffed facilities shall be a target to improve the quality of Antenatal care services provision.
BACKGROUND: Appropriate clinical management of malaria in children is critical for preventing progression to severe disease and for reducing the continued high burden of malaria mortality. This study aimed to assess the quality of care provided to children under 5 diagnosed with malaria across 9 sub-Saharan African countries. METHODS AND FINDINGS: We used data from the Service Provision Assessment (SPA) survey. SPAs are nationally representative facility surveys capturing quality of sick-child care, facility readiness, and provider and patient characteristics. The data set contained 24,756 direct clinical observations of outpatient sick-child visits across 9 countries, including Uganda (2007), Rwanda (2007), Namibia (2009), Kenya (2010), Malawi (2013), Senegal (2013-2017), Ethiopia (2014), Tanzania (2015), and Democratic Republic of the Congo (2018). We assessed the proportion of children with a malaria diagnosis who received a blood test diagnosis and an appropriate antimalarial. We used multilevel logistic regression to assess facility and provider and patient characteristics associated with these outcomes. Subgroup analyses with the 2013-2018 country surveys only were conducted for all outcomes. Children observed were on average 20.5 months old and were most commonly diagnosed with respiratory infection (47.7%), malaria (29.7%), and/or gastrointestinal infection (19.7%). Among the 7,340 children with a malaria diagnosis, 32.5% (95% CI: 30.3%-34.7%) received both a blood-test-based diagnosis and an appropriate antimalarial. The proportion of children with a blood test diagnosis and an appropriate antimalarial ranged from 3.4% to 57.1% across countries. In the more recent surveys (2013-2018), 40.7% (95% CI: 37.7%-43.6%) of children with a malaria diagnosis received both a blood test diagnosis and appropriate antimalarial. Roughly 20% of children diagnosed with malaria received no antimalarial at all, and nearly 10% received oral artemisinin monotherapy, which is not recommended because of concerns regarding parasite resistance. Receipt of a blood test diagnosis and appropriate antimalarial was positively correlated with being seen at a facility with diagnostic equipment in stock (adjusted OR 3.67; 95% CI: 2.72-4.95) and, in the 2013-2018 subsample, with being seen at a facility with Artemisinin Combination Therapies (ACTs) in stock (adjusted OR 1.60; 95% CI:1.04-2.46). However, even if all children diagnosed with malaria were seen by a trained provider at a facility with diagnostics and medicines in stock, only a predicted 37.2% (95% CI: 34.2%-40.1%) would have received a blood test and appropriate antimalarial (44.4% for the 2013-2018 subsample). Study limitations include the lack of confirmed malaria test results for most survey years, the inability to distinguish between a diagnosis of uncomplicated or severe malaria, the absence of other relevant indicators of quality of care including dosing and examinations, and that only 9 countries were studied. CONCLUSIONS: In this study, we found that a majority of children diagnosed with malaria across the 9 surveyed sub-Saharan African countries did not receive recommended care. Clinical management is positively correlated with the stocking of essential commodities and is somewhat improved in more recent years, but important quality gaps remain in the countries studied. Continued reductions in malaria mortality will require a bigger push toward quality improvements in clinical care.
BACKGROUND: Healthcare is amongst the most complex of human systems. Coordinating activities and integrating newer with older ways of treating patients while delivering high-quality, safe care, is challenging. Three landmark reports in 2018 led by (1) the Lancet Global Health Commission, (2) a coalition of the World Health Organization, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the World Bank, and (3) the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine of the United States propose that health systems need to tackle care quality, create less harm and provide universal health coverage in all nations, but especially low- and middle-income countries. The objective of this study is to review these reports with the aim of advancing the discussion beyond a conceptual diagnosis of quality gaps into identification of practical opportunities for transforming health systems by 2030. MAIN BODY: We analysed the reports via text-mining techniques and content analyses to derive their key themes and concepts. Initiatives to make progress include better measurement, using the capacities of information and communications technologies, taking a systems view of change, supporting systems to be constantly improving, creating learning health systems and undergirding progress with effective research and evaluation. Our analysis suggests that the world needs to move from 2018, the year of reports, to the 2020s, the decade of action. We propose three initiatives to support this move: first, developing a blueprint for change, modifiable to each country's circumstances, to give effect to the reports' recommendations; second, to make tangible steps to reduce inequities within and across health systems, including redistributing resources to areas of greatest need; and third, learning from what goes right to complement current efforts focused on reducing things going wrong. We provide examples of targeted funding which would have major benefits, reduce inequalities, promote universality and be better at learning from successes as well as failures. CONCLUSION: The reports contain many recommendations, but lack an integrated, implementable, 10-year action plan for the next decade to give effect to their aims to improve care to the most vulnerable, save lives by providing high-quality healthcare and shift to measuring and ensuring better systems- and patient-level outcomes. This article signals what needs to be done to achieve these aims.
OBJECTIVES: Recent studies have identified large and systematic deficits in clinical care in low-income countries that are likely to limit health gains. This has focused attention on effectiveness of pre-service education. One approach to assessing this is observation of clinical performance among recent graduates providing care. However, no studies have assessed performance in a standard manner across countries. We analysed clinical performance among recently graduated providers in nine low- or middle-income countries. METHODS: Service Provision Assessments from Haiti, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, Nepal, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, and Uganda were used. We constructed a Good Medical Practice Index that assesses completion of essential clinical actions using direct observations of care (range 0-1), calculated index scores by country and clinical cadre, and assessed the role of facility and clinical characteristics using regression analysis. RESULTS: Our sample consisted of 2223 clinicians with at least one observation of care. The Good Medical Practice score for the sample was 0.50 (SD = 0.20). Nurses and midwives had the highest score at 0.57 (SD = 0.20), followed by associate clinicians at 0.43 (SD = 0.18), and physicians at 0.42 (SD = 0.16). The average national performance varied from 0.63 (SD = 0.18) in Uganda to 0.39 (SD = 0.17) in Nepal, persisting after adjustment for facility and clinician characteristics. CONCLUSIONS: These results show substantial gaps in clinical performance among recently graduated clinicians, raising concerns about models of clinical education. Competency-based education should be considered to improve quality of care in LMICs. Observations of care offer important insight into the quality of clinical education.
BACKGROUND: Quality improvement collaboratives (QICs) have been used to improve health care for decades. Evidence on QIC effectiveness has been reported, but systematic reviews to date have little information from low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). OBJECTIVE: To assess the effectiveness of QICs in LMICs. METHODS: We conducted a systematic review following Cochrane methods, the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation (GRADE) approach for quality of evidence grading, and the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses (PRISMA) statement for reporting. We searched published and unpublished studies between 1969 and March 2019 from LMICs. We included papers that compared usual practice with QICs alone or combined with other interventions. Pairs of reviewers independently selected and assessed the risk of bias and extracted data of included studies. To estimate strategy effectiveness from a single study comparison, we used the median effect size (MES) in the comparison for outcomes in the same outcome group. The primary analysis evaluated each strategy group with a weighted median and interquartile range (IQR) of MES values. In secondary analyses, standard random-effects meta-analysis was used to estimate the weighted mean MES and 95% confidence interval (CI) of the mean MES of each strategy group. This review is registered with PROSPERO (International Prospective Register of Systematic Reviews): CRD42017078108. RESULTS: Twenty-nine studies were included; most (21/29, 72.4%) were interrupted time series studies. Evidence quality was generally low to very low. Among studies involving health facility-based health care providers (HCPs), for "QIC only", effectiveness varied widely across outcome groups and tended to have little effect for patient health outcomes (median MES less than 2 percentage points for percentage and continuous outcomes). For "QIC plus training", effectiveness might be very high for patient health outcomes (for continuous outcomes, median MES 111.6 percentage points, range: 96.0 to 127.1) and HCP practice outcomes (median MES 52.4 to 63.4 percentage points for continuous and percentage outcomes, respectively). The only study of lay HCPs, which used "QIC plus training", showed no effect on patient care-seeking behaviors (MES -0.9 percentage points), moderate effects on non-care-seeking patient behaviors (MES 18.7 percentage points), and very large effects on HCP practice outcomes (MES 50.4 percentage points). CONCLUSIONS: The effectiveness of QICs varied considerably in LMICs. QICs combined with other invention components, such as training, tended to be more effective than QICs alone. The low evidence quality and large effect sizes for QIC plus training justify additional high-quality studies assessing this approach in LMICs.
BACKGROUND: Nursing practice is a key driver of quality care and can influence newborn health outcomes where nurses are the primary care givers to this highly dependent group. However, in sub-Saharan Africa, nursing work environments are characterized by heavy workloads, insufficient staffing and regular medical emergencies, which compromise the ability of nurses to provide quality care. Task shifting has been promoted as one strategy for making efficient use of human resources and addressing these issues. AIMS AND OBJECTIVES: We aimed to understand the nature and practice of neonatal nursing in public hospitals in Nairobi so as to determine what prospect there might be for relieving pressure by shifting nurses' work to others. METHODS: This paper is based on an 18-month qualitative study of three newborn units of three public hospitals-all located in Nairobi county-using an ethnographic approach. We draw upon a mix of 32 interviews, over 250 h' observations, field notes and informal conversations. Data were collected from senior nursing experts in newborn nursing, neonatal nurse in-charges, neonatal nurses, nursing students and support staff. RESULTS: To cope with difficult work conditions characterized by resource challenges and competing priorities, nurses have developed a ritualized schedule and a form of 'subconscious triage'. Informal, organic task shifting was already taking place whereby particular nursing tasks were delegated to students, mothers and support staff, often without any structured supervision. Despite this practice, nurses were agnostic about formal institutionalization of task shifting due to concerns around professional boundaries and the practicality of integrating a new cadre into an already stressed health system. CONCLUSION: Our findings revealed a routine template of neonatal nursing work which nurses used to control unpredictability. We found that this model of nursing encouraged delegation of less technical tasks to subordinates, parents and other staff through the process of 'subconscious triage'. The rich insights we gained from this organic form of task shifting can inform more formal task-shifting projects as they seek to identify tasks most easily delegated, and how best to support and work with busy nurses.