Jab costing £1 cuts chances of premature children getting cerebral palsy

·3 min read
the feet of a newborn baby - REUTERS
the feet of a newborn baby - REUTERS

More than 200 cases of cerebral palsy in premature babies have been prevented in two years after a drug, costing £1 per dose, was introduced across the NHS.

The programme, now successfully implemented in all 152 maternity units in England, has been given to more than 8,000 mothers since 2018 saving around £180million in NHS and social care costs.

For babies born at less than 28 weeks, the risk of developing cerebral palsy is one in 10, for those born at full term the risk decreases to 1 in 1000.

Magnesium sulphate, which is administered intravenously and costs just £1 per dose, can reduce the chance of babies developing the condition by around 30 per cent, when given to women who are about to go into premature labour if they are under 30 weeks.

For every 37 mothers treated in preterm labour one case of cerebral palsy can be prevented, a measure known as the “number needed to treat”.

The drug acts as a “helmet” around the baby's brain and stablises their cells to be stronger against the adverse effects of premature birth.

The PReCePT (Prevention of Cerebral Palsy in Preterm Birth) programme was first introduced across the west of England in 2016 before being given NHS England funding to take it nationally.

“It’s the first quality improvement intervention at a national scale that’s been delivered in this way,” Dr Karen Luyt, clinical lead for the PReCePT and chief investigator for the Health Foundation funded study into the programme, said.

“It was a test really and it has gone extremely well.”

The study aimed to assess the effectiveness of two different Quality Improvement approaches in implementing PReCePT across a group of maternity units.

Preliminary results, shared exclusively with The Sunday Telegraph, reveal 2635 mothers received the drug in 2018/19 preventing 71 cases of cerebral palsy, 2996 in 2019/20 preventing 81 cases and 2756 in 2020/21 preventing 74 cases.

Throughout the two year programme, from April 2018 to March 2021, uptake was around 82 per cent, which Dr Luyt said is one of the “highest in the world”.

Clinical staff implementing the programme also responded positively, Dr Luyt said, “they feel incredibly proud of what they've achieved because every time they've treated 37 mothers, they know they've improved the lives of at least one baby”.

The programme offers toolkits and guidelines for clinicians and midwives making them more likely to offer the drug to mothers.

Will Warburton, Director of Improvement at the Health Foundation, said: “A lot of that knowledge is buried either in academic journals, or in a guideline somewhere.

“On top of the toolkit, it's the human support, it's this peer to peer support, that's really important because a lot of people often think ‘I can publish something, or I can email everyone and it will happen’, it’s actually being alongside people and giving them practical help.”

Dr Luyt said the “big ambition” is to use the improvement network they’ve created with PReCePT and apply it to other interventions.

“We’ve cut out teeth on magnesium and we’ll try and do more,” she said.

The full results of the study are expected to be published in the autumn.

PReCePT was one of the seven programmes selected and funded by NHS England for national adoption and spread across the country by all 15 Academic Health Science Networks (ASHN) during 2018 to 2020. The West of England AHSN led the programme.