Cost 'dilemma' posed by premature babies

ADVANCES in the care of very premature babies have led to a growing number of handicapped children who are costing the NHS significant sums to care for, and who may need lifelong support, health economists said yesterday.

The capacity of medical science to save low birth-weight babies is creating a new ethical dilemma for doctors and parents, according to a report. One in five of very premature babies suffers some form of neurological impairment. The report says the cost of saving such lives, and caring for them in childhood, would be better invested in trying to stop pre-term births or in other areas of health care.

George Teeling Smith, director of the Office of Health Economics (OHE), which published the report, said that a balance had to be struck 'between the creation of suffering and the advance of science'. Doctors were guilty of 'almost experimenting' with babies weighing 500g (about 1lb).

Improvements in neonatal intensive care have enabled the survival of many babies born well before term. In 1980, at the Hammersmith Hospital, London, there were only two out of eight survivors (25 per cent) among babies born between 26 and 27.9 weeks. By 1991, five out of nine (56 per cent) of this age survived.

The improvement is most marked when looking at the survival of babies weighing less than 749g (about 1lb 10 ozs), the report says. Between 1980 and 1983, there were no survivors at this weight at the Hammersmith; by 1991, although numbers were small, six out of nine (67 per cent) survived.

But improved survival - even for a small number of pre-term babies - does not come cheap. In 1990, neonatal intensive care for babies weighing less than 1,500g (3lb 4oz), cost the NHS between pounds 42m and pounds 70m - about pounds 20,000 per infant. For a child left handicapped as a result of pre-term birth, there are the additional social and health care costs in childhood, the costs of education - pre-term babies are up to 50 per cent more likely to need special education - and lifelong support if the individual is unable to work.

Jane Griffin, an OHE researcher who compiled the report, said: 'The ability to preserve the lives of these infants must be weighed against the resultant increase in the numbers of impaired children, the distress and suffering caused by lengthy treatment and hospitalisation, their eventual expected quality of life, and the socio-economic consequences for society as a whole.'

Ms Griffin said that pre-term birth prevention programmes should be considered to educate the public about risk factors associated with premature births. These include failure to attend ante-natal care clinics, smoking and alcohol abuse, emotional and physical stress. Such a programme in France reduced the pre-term birth rate from 8.2 to 5.6 per cent over 10 years.

Born too soon; OHE, 12 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY, pounds 5.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
News
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before