A recently published study of babies who needed neonatal care in England and Wales in 2014 has shown that only 46% are recorded as having been through their two year follow up check.

The two year check is designed to ensure that all babies born more than 10 weeks early are reviewed to see whether they are developing normally. The aim is to detect serious disabilities such as cerebral palsy, intellectual developmental delay and visual impairment early in a child’s life so that vital treatment and support can be provided. 

The annual report of The National Neonatal Audit Programme (NNAP), published by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), analysed the data from 86,000 newborn babies who needed neonatal care in 2014. The report found that, in many cases, neonatal units are not ensuring that the two year follow up is organised or are failing to record that it has taken place. 

Clinical Lead for the NNAP, Dr Sam Oddie, said “When a baby is born very prematurely, they are born before they are physically ready for life outside the womb. This means that they often have health problems which can extend into childhood… To ensure they are developing as they should be, it is crucial that these babies are monitored closely from birth, at least for the first couple of years.” 

Dr Oddie explains that the report’s findings that no development data had been entered at two years of age in 46% of babies “is a major concern. Not only does this create added anxiety for parents about whether their child’s developmental milestones are being met, it also adds pressure to the health service as such children will need to begin a new pathway through the NHS.” 

The report also looked into the communication between healthcare professionals and parents of babies in neonatal units. While there had been some improvement in the percentage of parents who were recorded as having a consultation with a senior member of the neonatal team within 24 hours of their child’s admission (89% in 2014 compared with 84% in 2013), there were still one in 10 families who were not recorded as having had this opportunity. 

Camilla Wonnacott, associate in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches, said: “We specialise in acting for children who have sustained brain injury at birth or in the neonatal period. As if the circumstances of these births were not heart-wrenching and daunting enough for the families involved, far too often we find that neither the children nor the parents have had the appropriate support in the early years. Parents are often desperate to know why their child has not reached their milestones. 

“There are too many instances where healthcare professionals have been seemingly reluctant to break bad news to parents, which only serves to delay vital treatment for the children and access to much needed support for the parents. All premature babies must be  followed up to identify development problems early and put in place treatment and support.”