26 February 2008
More than 25 UK babies die each week due to complications arising from premature birth, yet little is known about why this happens or how to prevent it.
Experts are backing the charity, Action Medical Research, in its campaign for urgent government action to set up an independent Premature Birth Inquiry, to develop the UK’s first research strategy for tackling this deadly problem.
Professor David Field, president-elect of the British Association of Perinatal Medicine, said: “We are currently unable to say which factors are most important in putting someone at risk of premature birth. This is seriously hampering our ability to develop good preventative strategies.
"We need to understand more about the process of how premature birth begins and develops. Medical research can help us in this area.
“Premature birth is often seen as a discreet event, yet the health impact of a child being born too soon can last a lifetime. Some mothers will go on to have more than one premature baby.”
The calls for an inquiry are also being backed by NCT (formerly known as the National Childbirth Trust), and professional bodies including Neonatal Nurse Association, British Association of Perinatal Medicine, Neonatal Society and the European Pre-term Labour Group.
Premature birth is the single biggest cause of death among the under ones in England and Wales. As Patrick Olszowski, Campaigns Manager at Action Medical Research, explains: “Sadly, around 50,000 babies a year are born too soon in the UK. Department of Health documents report a lack of understanding about how best to predict or prevent premature birth.
“We are convinced that the government must act to bridge this gap in our understanding, which is the cause of distress and suffering to so many families.
“Medical research can make a difference in understanding what causes premature birth and ultimately find treatments to prevent it. We are asking members of the public to visit our campaign website at www.standupfortinylives.org"
Pieter Willemse, whose son Flynn was born at 28 weeks, and was given only a 20 per cent chance of survival, said: “Seeing your children born prematurely is one of the most frightening experiences you can possibly imagine. I want the government to act now to prevent other families suffering this.”
Notes to Editors
1. For further information please contact the Action Medical Research press team on 01403 327480 or 01403 327493 or via email Patrick@action.org.uk
2. Other case studies are also available, please call the press office.
3. Action Medical Research is calling on the Department of Health (DH) and Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) for the independent Premature Birth Inquiry.
enables people to send a message to both government ministers and contact their MP to ask them to sign the Tiny Lives Charter.
5. Although the government has recently increased the amount spent on research into premature birth (up from £3.7 m in 2004-05 to £5m, 2005-06), it is still only 0.38 per cent of the total government medical research budget. These figures are far outweighed by the need.
Partners backing the campaign
1. The British Association of Perinatal Medicine – www.bapm.org
2. Neonatal Nurse Association – www.nna.org.uk
3. NCT (formerly the National Childbirth Trust) - www.nct.org.uk/campaigns
4. Neonatal Society - http://www.neonatalsociety.org/
5. European Pre-term Labour Group - http://www.bristol.ac.uk/clinicalsciencesouth/eptlg/
• There are around 700,000 live births in the UK each year (1)
• An estimated 50,000 babies are born prematurely each year in the UK (1,2)
• Each year, almost 1500 babies die in the UK as a result of complications arising from premature birth (3-5)
• Each week, more than 25 babies die in the UK as a result of complications arising from premature birth (3-5)
• About 40% of the babies dying each year in the UK, die as a result of complications arising from premature birth (3-5)
• An estimated 70,000 babies in the UK each year require some sort of special care when they are born (1,6)
• The government spend on research into premature birth was £3.7 million for 2004/5 (7) and £5 million for 2005/6 (8)
1. Office for National Statistics. Health Statistics Quarterly 35 (Autumn 2007), Table 2.1
2. The Information Centre, Community Health Statistics. NHS Maternity Statistics, England: 2003-04, 2004-05, 2005-06
3. ONS: Health Statistics Quarterly 28 (Winter 2005), 32 (Winter 2006), 36 (Winter 2007)
4. General Register Office for Scotland, Vital Events Reference Tables 2006
5. Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency. Registrar General Annual Report 2006
6. Department of Health. Report of the Neonatal Intensive Care Services Review Group. April 2003.
7. Andy Burnham MP to David Amess MP. Hansard. 15 May 2006
8. Dawn Primarolo MP to Julie Kirkbride MP. Hansard. 8 October 2007.
a. Estimate assumes incidence of premature birth is the same for the UK overall as it is for England
b. For England and Wales, deaths listed as due to “immaturity related conditions”
c. For Scotland and Northern Ireland, deaths listed as due to “disorders related to length of gestation and fetal growth”