Picture by Patrick Barrie/BBC
The EPICure study recorded all the births of babies who were born at less than 26 weeks gestation during a 10 month period in 1995.
There were 276 maternity hospitals in the UK and Ireland in 1995, all of whom agreed to take part. 266 of those hospitals reported babies born at the required gestation of less than 26 weeks.
Below is a summary of the findings of the EPICure study.
THE FIRST STUDY
- 4004 babies were born at less then 26 weeks gestation between March and December 1995. Infants born alive at this gestation represent less than one per cent of all live births.
- Just over 1200 of those babies were born alive, and 811 were admitted into the neo-natal unit.
- Out of the 811, 314 (39 per cent) survived to go home. And of those babies who died while in intensive care, care was withdrawn in over half the cases.
- Nearly a third of the infants who survived to go home went home on oxygen.
THE TWO AND A HALF YEAR ASSESSMENT
The EPICure team assessed as many of the children as they could when they were two and a half years old. This is what they found.
- Six of the children had died since being discharged.
- 50 per cent of the children showed no sign of disability.
- 25 per cent of the children had 'severe' disability. The study defined "severe disability" as 'one that was likely to put the child in need of physical assistance to perform daily activities'.
- 25 per cent of the children were defined as having 'other' disability.
- 50 children (18 per cent) had some form of cerebral palsy, 27 of those children were described as having severe cerebral palsy. Boys were more likely to have cerebral palsy than girls.
- Nearly half the children had a chest related medical problem and took medicine to relieve things like wheeze and cough. Many of these children had asthma.
- Since being discharged from hospital as babies, 40 per cent of the children had been readmitted many for chest related problems.
- More children were used their left hand than their right.
- Many of the children (a third of boys and a sixth of girls) were seen to have behaviour difficulties, mainly problems with attention.
The SIX YEAR ASSESSMENT
The EPICure team contacted the children again when they were between the ages of five and a half and six and a half to assess their development.
This time researchers looked again at each child's physical abilities and also at their cognitive abilities and intelligence, testing things like IQ, ability to understand instructions and to reason, verbal skills and memory.
The researchers also assessed a group of children who were not born prematurely but were the same age, so that the results of the two groups could be compared. The study found that:
- Around 40 per cent of the children were found to have cognitive difficulties, as opposed to roughly 2 per cent of the general population at that age.
- Boys were found to have more cognitive problems than girls. Indeed, at the very early gestation of 23-25 weeks, boys were two times more likely to have cognitive difficulties than girls.