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Bristol initiative prevents 200 cerebral palsy cases a year

May 25, 2023May 25, 2023

Hundreds of cases of cerebral palsy are being prevented each year after a Bristol initiative to give mothers of premature babies magnesium sulphate.

The drug, costing £1, is now used across the NHS to help prevent cases of the disorder.

The findings, published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, said 85% of eligible women get the drug.

A study showed magnesium sulphate reduces the risk of cerebral palsy by a third.

Elly Salisbury was the first mother to be given magnesium sulphate when she went into labour at 27 weeks at St Michael's Hospital in Bristol.

She is convinced the treatment stopped her nine-year-old son Cormac from developing cerebral palsy.

Mrs Salisbury said: "For me it was the reality of it. The real evidence that babies born under 30 weeks are given every chance possible to live a normal healthy brilliant life like Cormac does.

"He's so active and plays football, and surfs - just a normal crazy nine-year-old."

Karen Luyt, professor of neonatal medicine at St Michael's Hospital, who set up the prevention of cerebral palsy in pre-term labour (PReCePT) programme in 2014, is the pioneer of magnesium sulphate treatment.

As a result of her work it is now standard for every premature birth to be flagged up in maternity wards.

Professor Luyt said: "What this study shows is that the year after implementation 85% of women who were eligible received the drug."

A significant proportion of women deliver too quickly to receive the drug, but Professor Luyt added: "Our hopes are that this will be sustained because year-on-year we can prevent cerebral palsy - probably between 100 and 200 cases a year."

Premature birth is the main cause of brain injury and cerebral palsy in babies.

Evidence shows that babies can be protected from brain injury by giving magnesium sulphate to women who are at risk of premature birth.

The PReCePT programme aims to support all maternity units in England to increase the use of magnesium sulphate.

It was developed in the West of England in 2014, led by the West of England Academic Health Science Network and University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust.

It was piloted in five NHS trusts in the west and has since been rolled out across England.

Researchers estimate that the programme's first year could be associated with a lifetime saving to society of £3m.

John Macleod, National Institute for Health and Care Research ARC West Director and professor in clinical epidemiology and primary care at the University of Bristol, said there had been an uptake in use.

"The programme has increased uptake of magnesium sulphate, which we know is a cost-effective medicine to prevent cerebral palsy, much more quickly than we could have otherwise expected," he said.

There are minor short-term side effects including sickness and headaches but when it costs almost a million pounds to care for a child with cerebral palsy during their lifetime, preventing up to 200 cases a year will save billions - not to mention giving thousands of youngsters the best quality of life.

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