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Survival rates for very premature babies fail to improve

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Survival rates for very premature babies born before 24 weeks have failed to improve over the last 15 years, despite more vigorous attempts to keep them alive, a study reveals.

Researchers in Newcastle analysed infant deaths among 229 babies born alive at 22 or 23 weeks’ gestation in the city from 1993 to 2007. This stage of development is considered to be at the “margins of viability” for life.

Of the 229 babies, 210 died - with 34% of these first living for more than six hours.

The length of time the babies lived gradually increased between 1993 and 2007 reflecting lengthier and more active treatment such as resuscitation and surgery.

But the chances of survival did not improve over the same time frame despite the more intensive treatment, researchers said.

Six babies survived between 1993 and 1997, six survived between 1997 and 2002 and seven survived between 2003 and 2007.

Over the same 15-year period, studies have shown that survival rates for babies born after more than 26 weeks’ gestation increased.

Many parents wanted their baby resuscitating if it was born very premature - under 24 weeks - but this treatment did not improve chances of survival, researchers found.

Writing in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, the experts concluded: “An improved understanding of societal and parental attitudes and perceptions towards either the withholding or the withdrawing of active treatment at the margins of viability is needed.”

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