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Premature births cost Britain’s National Health Services (NHS) nearly £1 billion ($1.44 billion USD) each year, with an early birth costing one and a half times more than that of a full-term birth, according to research funded by children’s charity Tommy’s.
In England and Wales, healthcare expenses for premature births can average up to £20,000 (over $29,000 USD) per baby.
According to the NHS, more than 48,000 babies were born prematurely in the UK and Wales in 2005, about 7% of the 584,100 babies born during that period.
But in 2007, the percentage rose to 8.6%—one of the highest figures in Europe.
“It is hard to tell from the figures whether the increase is due to spontaneous births, when the woman goes into labor early, or whether it is due to medically-induced premature delivery,” Dr. Rebecca Jones, of Tommy’s Manchester Research Centre at St. Mary’s General Hospital, said. “Potential reasons for the increase may be more mothers having babies at a young or late age, more multiple pregnancies because of IVF [in vitro fertilization], changes in smoking rates, or changes in the general health of the population” (BBC).
“This is a worrying increase,” Dr. Jones added, “and it highlights the need for more research in this area, to understand the reasons for premature birth and develop new treatments.”
The premature birth assessment, published in the U.S. medical journal Pediatrics, said the British government could save up to £260 million (about $380 million USD) if mothers delayed labor for one week.
Babies born before 37 weeks have a higher risk of infection, digestive track defects, and eye and lung problems, requiring incubation or admittance into intensive care units—an extra cost for premature births. Other related expenses include social services, outpatient visits and healthcare education.
In addition, premature birth may also cause the death of a child and mother.
Jane Brewin, chief executive of Tommy’s told The Times, “Given that the UK rate of premature birth is rising, the mammoth cost [of preterm births] is set to grow even larger. A plan must be developed which will target medical research resources to reduce premature birth.”