With a letter issued in February 2021, a group of researchers presented an analysis of the cross-European disparities of routine follow-up services of children who were born very preterm (<32 weeks of gestational age (GA)). It was found that the mother’s sociodemographic characteristics and her perinatal situation were among the main factors regarding these disparities.
Aiming to describe the use of follow-up services in Europe, the research team collected data from obstetric and neonatal records from 19 regions across 11 European countries. A population-based analysis was conducted using standardised parental questionnaires. The goal was to evaluate the use of routine follow-up services on 3635 children born before 32 weeks of gestation and until their fifth birthday.
Despite the limitations concerning parental recall, the study presented interesting results, stating that 90.3% of the children had used follow-up services, and 27.3% continued with these until the age of five. A family’s lower socioeconomic status was associated with use of follow-up services. Mothers younger than 24 years and mothers born outside of Europe were two groups associated with never having used follow-up services. This underuse is concerning, as their children already belong to a vulnerable minority. Infants with perinatal risk factors such as low GA, small for GA or bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), were among the group to continue follow-up services at older age. Interestingly, the group of male preterm babies used more follow-up services than the female group.
Given the importance of follow-up appointments in children born very preterm, and considering that the most affected groups shown in the study are already in a challenging life situation, the study highlights the need for standardisation in follow-up protocols and calls for action in this regard.
EFCNI was part of the SHIPS Research Group – one of the main data contributors and collaborators of this study.
Paper available to view at: British Medical Journal
Full list of authors: Anna-Veera Seppänen, Elizabeth S Draper, Stavros Petrou, Henrique Barros, Lazaros Andronis, Sung Wook Kim, Rolf F Maier, Pernille Pedersen, Janusz Gadzinowski, Jo Lebeer, Ulrika Ådén, Liis Toome, Arno F J van Heijst, Marina Cuttini, Jennifer Zeitlin