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Study Reveals the Cost of Premature Birth

February 2, 2009

Premature babies born in the UK cost the NHS an estimated £1billion ($1.4 billion) a year more than full-term babies, according to researchers.

In a new study, researchers from the Oxford Center for Health Economics found that giving birth to premature babies adds nearly £20,000 ($28,000) more health care costs than giving birth to full-term babies.

In other words, premature babies cost about 1 and 1/2 times more than full-term babies, researchers said.

Tommy’s, a baby charity project, funded the study, calling it the first of its kind to weigh the public cost of premature birth.

Researchers also noted that the rate of premature births has risen from 7 percent, or about 48,000 babies, in 2006, to 8.6 percent in 2007.

“Given that the UK rate of premature birth is rising, this mammoth cost is set to grow even larger,” Jane Brewin, chief executive of Tommy’s told BBC Health.

Age, weight or mothers and rising use of fertility treatments have been linked to the increase of premature births.

“We know that there are serious implications for some of these babies such as chronic lung disease, haemorrhaging in the brain, eye problems, digestive tract problems and increased risk of infection.”

Added funding for more research into ways to delay premature births could save £260million ($368million) a year, researchers concluded in the US journal, Pediatrics.

“The extent to which the costs associated with preterm birth are an economic burden has previously received little attention,” said Professor Peter Brocklehurst, director of the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit at Oxford University,
“We propose that more effort is focused on preventing preterm birth.”

Tommy’s is backing three medical research centers that are studying premature birth, miscarriage and stillbirth.

“The vital work that Tommy’s is funding searches for proteins circulating in the mother’s blood in early pregnancy which will highlight which women will develop pre-eclampsia,” said Brewin.

“This will then enable early treatment to prolong the pregnancy and improve the chances for mother and baby.

We are also detailing the events which control uterine contractions so we could intervene to stop them in pre-term labor.

Current treatments are ineffective at delaying labor by more than a couple of days, however we believe if we could improve that to a week it may make a significant difference to the health of the baby.”

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On The Net:

Tommy’s

Oxford Health Economics Research

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