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Thursday, 31 May, 2001, 14:26 GMT 15:26 UK
'Smart' foetal monitor wins 2m grant
newborn baby
The technique could reduce the chances of labour complications
A computer system which helps doctors assess the condition of unborn babies during labour could become available nationwide.

A 2m grant from the Medical Research Council will allow the foetal monitoring project to be tested nationwide after successful trials in Plymouth.

During labour, babies can become distressed, requiring immediate Caesarian delivery, and their hearts are monitored to spot signs of this.

If the babies are not delivered quickly once they get into trouble, they can die or suffer disability.

The Plymouth system takes this one step further - not only is heart beat recorded, but a computer compares it to those of thousands of other foetuses monitored over a 10 year period.

This way, patterns can be compared for more clues that the baby is at risk.

Novice doctors

It helps less experienced doctors - who often find themselves confronted with difficult births - to make sound decisions about when to call for an emergency Caesarian.

The grant will allow national clinical trials to be carried out at six hospitals, involving 35,000 deliveries.

Professor Keith Greene, an obstetrician from Derriford Hospital in Plymouth, who together with software engineer Dr Robert Keith, said he was delighted with the money.

He said: "Our system is designed to make labour safer for mother and baby and to reduce the number of babies born brain damaged, or still-born because of human error.

"For midwives and junior doctors, it's like having a consultant obstetrician permanently on hand for advice and help in decision making when things start to go wrong."

The pilot trial in Plymouth found that the system was as expert as three expert obstetricians - and made some correct decisions which had actually not happened in real life.

The equipment will be introduced in the trial centres early next year.

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06 Mar 00 | Health
Women 'scared of birth'
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