Facts & Figures

Recent UK wide data indicates that around one in eight babies requires some form of special care. This equates to over 80,000 babies every year.

17,000 of these babies need intensive care, often for many weeks or even months. As medical treatments continue to improve, this figure is rising all the time.

The vital care that premature and sick babies receive after birth can have a profound impact on the rest of their lives. And for families struggling to cope with having a baby in special care, this will be one of the most difficult, emotional and stressful times of their lives.

Neonatal units: Definitions and facts

There are 228 units in the UK offering neonatal intensive, high dependency or special care.

There are three levels of neonatal care. These are described in general terms below with some examples of the care that babies receive. Also indicated are the British Association of Perinatal Medicine standards for nurse to baby ratios.

  • Special Care (Level 1)

For babies requiring continuous monitoring of respiration or heart rate; for babies receiving added oxygen, being tube fed, receiving phototherapy or recovering from more specialist care.

  • Special Care nurse to baby ratio – 1:4

High Dependency Care (Level 2)

For babies receiving oxygen from nasal continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) but not fulfilling any of the categories for intensive care; any baby below 1,000gms who does not fulfill any of thecategories for intensive care; babies receiving parental nutrition, with apnoea requiring stimulation.

  • High Dependency Care nurse to baby ratio – 1:2
  • Intensive Care (Level 3)

For babies needing respiratory support (ventilation); for babies weighing less than 1,000g and/or born at less than 28 weeks’ gestation and receiving nasal continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP); for babies with severe respiratory disease or who require major surgery.

  • Intensive Care nurse to baby ratio – 1:1

Survival Rates

Most premature babies survive, thrive and experience few long-term issues. 

Survival of extremely premature babies depends on a range of factors, including birth weight and the condition of the baby once he or she is born. However a comprehensive study of all babies born under 26 weeks gestation in the UK in 1995 identified these broad survival rates.

• Babies born at 23 weeks or below have a 20 per cent chance of survival to discharge home
• Babies born at 24 weeks have a 35 per cent chance of survival to discharge home
• Babies born at 25 weeks have a 55 per cent chance of survival to discharge home

Source – 1995 EPICure Study

A more recent study of all babies born under 27 weeks gestation in England only in 2006 identified statistically significant improved survival rates at 24 and 25 weeks.

• Babies born at 24 weeks have a 47 per cent chance of survival
• Babies born at 25 weeks have a 67 per cent chance of survival

Source – 2006 EPICure2 Study

Number of Live Births 2005/06
England                                                          617,900
Wales                          32,900
Scotland                          54,600
Northern Ireland                          22,600

Source – ONS Health Statistics Quarterly 34 table 2.1 (figures to nearest 100)

Comparison of gestation periods in England 2005/06
Gestation period                  Number of deliveries            %     
under 24 weeks                               550       0.09%
24-28 weeks                            3,600       0.61%
29-34 weeks                           14,900       2.51%
35-37 weeks                           57,300       9.66%
38-42 weeks                         513,000      86.45%
over 42 weeks                            4,060       0.68%

Source – NHS Maternity Statistics 2006 Table 21

Comparison of birth weights in England 2005/06
Birth weight Number of live births              %       
Under 1000g                              3,600      0.60%
1000 – 1499g                              4,100      0.61%
1500 – 1999g                              8,100      1.36%
2000 – 2499g                            26,600      4.48%
2500 – 2999g                          102,000    17.18%
3000 – 3499g                          214,200    36.10%
3500 – 3999g                          169,700    28.60%
4000g +                            65,250    10.99%

Source – NHS Maternity Statistics 2006 Table 22

12.87% of hospital births in England in 2005/6 were classed as premature and 7.13% were classed as having a low birth weight.

Infant Mortality Rates

There is a significant variation in infant mortality rates across the UK. This can be demonstrated by comparing the rates of the UK’s constituent nations. The variation becomes more apparent when comparing different regions within the UK. A baby born in some parts of Scotland is over three times more likely to die than one born in the Home Counties.

Infant Mortality Rates by constituency nation for 2005
UK                                             5.1
England    5.0
Wales    4.1
Scotland    5.2
Northern Ireland                     6.3
Infant Mortality Rates - examples of regional variation for 2005
West Midlands                          6.4
Yorkshire & Humber                6.1
London    5.1
South East    3.9
West Dunbartonshire  14.0

Source – ONS Health Statistics Quarterly 34 / GRO Scotland annual review 2005 
Infant Mortality Rates classified as deaths under 1 year per 1,000 live births

The table below shows the UK’s high rate of infant mortality and low birth weight babies in comparison with other major European nations. Out of the countries listed the UK has the highest infant mortality rate and only Greece has a higher percentage of low birth weight babies.

European Infant Mortality and Low Birth Weight Rates

Infant Mortality Rate
Deaths per 1,000 live births

Low Birth Weight Rate
(% of births less than 2500g)

Iceland                                    2.4                                       3.1
Finland                                    3.1                                       4.1
Sweden                                    3.1                                       4.5
France                                    3.9                                       6.6
Spain                                    4.1                                       6.8
Germany                                    4.2                                       6.8
Belgium                                    4.3                                       6.5
Italy                                    4.3                                       6.5
Denmark                                    4.4                                       5.5
Austria                                    4.5                                       7.1
Netherlands                                    4.8                                       5.4
Greece                                    4.8                                       8.3
Ireland                                    5.1                                       4.9
UK*                                    5.3                                       7.6

Source - UNICEF, Child poverty in perspective: An overview of child well-being in rich countries, Innocenti Report Card 7, 2007, UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, Florence.

*UK information in the UNICEF report is 2003 data.

Data provided by www.bliss.org.uk