National Research Strategy demanded to tackle premature baby deaths | Action Medical Research

National Research Strategy demanded to tackle premature baby deaths

15 July 2008

The largest cause of infant mortality in the UK requires urgent government action, a leading scientist will tell MPs, Weds 16th July 2008. In a speech due to be given at the House of Commons, Professor Michael Taggart, Chair of Reproductive Sciences at Newcastle University will call on the government to develop the UK’s first, 10-year National Research Strategy to tackle premature birth.

Professor Taggart’s comments will be made at the launch of the charity Action Medical Research’s report, The Tiny Lives Charter, which argues that long term government support is needed to improve understanding of the causes of premature birth and find ways to reduce it. The report pulls together the views of leading medical experts, researchers, and professional and parent organisations. The call is also backed by a cross-party group of nearly 50 MPs.

Each year in the UK an estimated 50,000 babies are born prematurely – before 37 weeks of pregnancy (1,2,a). Each week more than 25 babies die as a result of complications arising from premature birth, the largest cause of infant mortality in the UK (3-5,b-c).

There are current government policies that focus on reducing infant mortality rates by tackling health inequalities and addressing known risk factors, as well as initiatives to continue to improve services. However, none focuses exclusively on the role of medical research in tackling premature birth.

Dr Yolande Harley, Deputy Director of Research at Action Medical Research explains: “Despite improved care for newborn babies there has been no corresponding progress in reducing the rates of premature birth. Many babies still die and those who survive are at risk of lifelong health conditions.”

“The causes and potential risk factors are not well understood and diagnosis of preterm labour is difficult. Evidence suggests that women with no obvious risk factors, particularly first-time mothers, deliver as many as half of all premature babies.”

The report, part of the charity’s ongoing STAND UP for Tiny Lives Campaign, argues that a National Research Strategy focused on improving understanding of the causes of premature birth could help lead to the development of targeted measures to reduce infant mortality and improve child health.

Prof Michael Taggart said: “While high-quality research groups are active across the country much of their efforts are happening in relative isolation, impeding progress. We need to build on existing research and foster greater collaboration within the scientific and clinical community backed by government, the pharmaceutical industry and the charity sector.

Fiona Currie, whose daughter Lauren died as a result of infection following premature birth, said: “Premature birth can happen to any family. Until doctors have all the information they need to be able to deal with this problem families will continue to be torn apart. We need to know why premature birth happens.” - ends -

Notes to editor

1) Both Professor Michael Taggart, Chair of Reproductive Sciences at Newcastle University and Fiona Currie are available for interview

2) For further information please contact the Action Medical Research press team on 01403 327 478 or via email patrick@action.org.uk

3) Copies of the report; “The Tiny Lives Charter - a cross-party call to tackle premature birth” are available at http://www.standupfortinylives.org/download/ - using the password standuptlc

4) The STAND UP for Tiny Lives Campaign is calling on the Department of Health (DH) and Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) to commission an independent Premature Birth Inquiry to lead to the development of the UK’s first 10 year National Research Strategy for tackling premature birth.

5) www.standupfortinylives.org/map/ shows the names of the MPs already backing the campaign.

6) Organisations backing the STAND UP for Tiny Lives Campaign:

The British Association of Perinatal Medicine – www.bapm.org
European Parturition Group - http://www.bristol.ac.uk/clinicalsciencesouth/eptlg/
· NCT (formerly the National Childbirth Trust) – www.nct.org.uk/campaigns
Neonatal Nurse Association – www.nna.org.uk
Neonatal Society – www.neonatalsociety.org.uk
TAMBA – www.tamba.org.uk
Scottish Neonatal Nurses Group – www.snng.org.uk

7) Fast facts
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,a)
Each year, almost 1500 babies die in the UK as a result of complications arising from premature birth (3-5, b-c)
Each week, more than 25 babies die in the UK as a result of complications arising from premature birth (3-5, b-c)
About 40% of the babies dying each year in the UK, die as a result of complications arising from premature birth (3-5, b-c)
An estimated 70,000 babies in the UK each year require some sort of special care when they are born (1,6)
The combined government spend on research into premature birth was £5 million for 2005/6 (7). This figure covers both the Department of Health and Medical Research Council. The spend for 2006/07 was £6.6 million from the Medical Research Council (8).

References

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. Dawn Primarolo MP to Julie Kirkbride MP. Hansard. 8 October 2007.

8. Letter from Ann Keen MP to Simon Moore, Chief Executive, Action Medical Research – copy available. Received June 2008.

Footnotes

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”

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