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Sick premature babies face a care ‘postcode lottery’

Babies born prematurely face a ‘postcode lottery’ of care, a new report suggests.

While medical provision for early infants, with health problems or with a low birth weight, is improving overall, some regions are not delivering ‘gold standard’ care.

Researchers compared neonatal care across England, Scotland and Wales and found significant variations by area.

For instance, it is recommended that magnesium sulphate is given to mothers likely to deliver a pre-term baby to reduce the risk of cerebral palsy in later life.

But the latest National Neonatal Audit Programme (NNAP) report, produced by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, discovered that administration rates vary between 26 per cent to 70 per cent across different regions.

A study found significant variations in neonatal care across hospitals in England, Scotland and Wales (stock photo)

Meanwhile the authors found no improvement in the rates of breast milk given to pre-term babies. 

In some areas only 39 per cent of premature babies are receiving breast milk when they are sent home compared with 78 per cent in other areas.

The authors also found that two in five babies born more than 10 weeks early were not given appropriate follow-up appointments when they were two years old.

‘It simply isn’t good’

But the 2016 report did highlight improvements in some areas compared with previous years, including more parents having consultations with senior medics within a day of their child’s admission.

More babies are receiving eye screening to minimise risk of vision loss and there is better monitoring of babies’ temperatures.

Around 750,000 babies are born each year across the three nations and nearly one in eight of these will be admitted to a neonatal unit.


Researchers have successfully used an artificial womb to incubate a fetal lamb for the second time. 

The feat offers fresh hope for the future of care for premature babies, as experts hope this fluid-filled plastic bag could help them develop their organs and grow. 

It was first performed by researchers in Philadelphia earlier this year. Now scientists in Australia have replicated the device.

In the latest study published last month, fetal lambs were placed in the custom-made bags for one week to test how they reacted and developed in that environment.

The lambs were born healthy from the womb with no signs of brain damage. 

The research was carried out by the University of Western Australia, Australia’s Women and Infants Research Foundation and Tohoku University Hospital in Japan.

Dr Sam Oddie, consultant neonatologist and clinical lead for the report, said: ‘There is no reason why many of these measures could not be achieved far more successfully – paying attention to the clinical processes and working with the whole involved team to improve them are the keys to improvement.

‘For example, we need a health care system where every baby born very early is followed up at two years.

‘However, we know that 40 per cent of babies don’t have any clinical information at all recorded about their health and development at two years.

‘It simply isn’t good enough – babies born more than 10 weeks early do sometimes have important problems with their development, and knowing about this at an early stage helps babies, their families and the health service.’

But he welcomed improvements in other areas, adding: ‘The number of units who have made significant improvements to particular aspects of care over a 12-month period is impressive.

‘It shows that progress can be made – and the positive impact on the health of these babies can be huge.

‘For example, admitting babies with a normal temperature seems to reduce the risks to babies in terms of reducing the severity of illness and is certainly one sign that the initial care of the baby went well.’