New guidelines for health professionals caring for premature babies

New healthcare guidance is being issued to health professionals caring for very premature babies following a mother’s campaign.

The guidance will help Welsh NHS health professionals in how they should care for very premature babies born alive before 24 weeks of gestation. Prior to these new guidelines, the British Association of Perinatal Medicine (BAPM) did not state what the NHS should do to care for babies born before 24 weeks gestation.

At present, babies born before 23 weeks of gestation have a very low chance of survival and any treatment is unlikely to be successful due to the lungs and airways of the baby being very undeveloped. This could make it incredibly difficult to administer medication and fluids to the baby.

However, the new guidelines introduced state that when a premature baby is born on the threshold of survival, healthcare professionals should consult with the neonatal and paediatric team to ensure that clinical assessments are planned and undertaken and decisions are made on an individual basis regarding the ongoing management of care, in partnership with the family. Where possible these discussions should be had prior to the birth of the baby. In addition, bereavement services are now available from all Welsh health boards ensuring that families are able to get support when required.

The new guidelines will help to ensure that the level of treatment provided to premature babies and their families is consistent regardless of the hospital or care provider. This could in turn have an impact on the annual volume of midwife negligence claims, acting to reduce medical negligence claims as a whole.

Commenting on the new guidelines, The Chief Medical Officer for Wales and Medical Director of NHS Wales, Dr Frank Atherton said:

“Very tiny babies, even when they are born alive, may not be able to be resuscitated because their airways and lungs are too immature and delicate to withstand intubation and ventilation, and their blood vessels too small to administer medicines or fluids.We recognised there was a need for the Welsh Government to develop this additional guidance, because the current professional guidance from the British Association of Perinatal Medicine (BAPM) does not state what the NHS should do to care for babies born alive before 24 weeks. We are very grateful to Emma Jones for sharing her painful experiences with us, and for working with us to develop the new guidance, which will help maternity services to support sensitively mothers and families where babies are born on the threshold of survival.”

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