Four out of ten babies born at 23 weeks are now surviving when cared for in neonatal units, it has been revealed.
The British Association of Perinatal Medicine (BAPM) carried out the research and issued new guidance, saying it is based on the “most up-to-date science”.
A medical ethics professor involved in the study said: “It is possible, in 2019, to save babies who could not previously have survived. That is fantastic news.”
BAPM said its 2008 guidance indicated that two babies in every ten born at 23 weeks survived, compared to four now.
For babies born at 22 weeks, 30 per cent survive, while at 26 weeks the figure is 80 per cent.
Currently it is legal in Great Britain to abort unborn children up to 24 weeks, or up to birth if doctors believe the baby will be born with a disability. A new framework for abortion law in Northern Ireland will be released for consultation in the coming weeks.
BAPM acknowledged that while survival rates are improving, the prognosis for extremely premature babies remains poor.
It said that managing the labour and birth should be conducted with the “wishes and values of the mother and her partner” in mind.
It is possible, in 2019, to save babies who could not previously have survived. That is fantastic news.
Dr Helen Mactier, BAPM’s President, said the updated guidance “aligns recommended clinical practice with the most up-to-date science, ensuring that advice to parents is consultative, consistent and evidence-based”.
“We have a responsibility to offer the best possible care to the baby and consistent advice and guidance to worried parents”, she added.
Dominic Wilkinson, Professor of Medical Ethics at the University of Oxford, said it was excellent that more babies can be saved now.
But he also struck a note of caution, saying, “the very high risks mean that it is not always the right thing to do to provide intensive medical treatment”.
In 2014, the Welsh Government was urged to change the guidelines on very premature babies, after a baby born early was left to die in hospital.
Emma Jones’ son Riley was breathing independently for 93 minutes, but staff at Cardiff’s University Hospital of Wales refused to treat him because he was born at just 22 weeks and three days into the pregnancy.