Background Expertise and resources may be important determinants of outcome for extremely preterm babies. We evaluated the effect of place of birth and perinatal transfer on survival and neonatal morbidity within a prospective cohort of births between 22 and 26 weeks of gestation in England during 2006.
Methods We studied the whole population of 2460 births where the fetus was alive at the admission of the mother to hospital for delivery. Outcomes to discharge were compared between level 3 (most intensive) and level 2 maternity services, with and without transfers, and by activity level of level 3 neonatal unit; ORs were adjusted for gestation at birth and birthweight for gestation (adjusted ORs (aOR)).
Findings Of this national birth cohort, 56% were born in maternity services with level 3 and 34% with level 2 neonatal units; 10% were born in a setting without ongoing intensive care facilities (level 1). When compared with level 2 settings, risk of death in level 3 services was reduced (aOR 0.73 (95% CI 0.59 to 0.90)), but the proportion surviving without neonatal morbidity was similar (aOR 1.27 (0.93 to 1.74)). Analysis by intended hospital of birth confirmed reduced mortality in level 3 services. Following antenatal transfer into a level 3 setting, there were fewer intrapartum or labour ward deaths, and overall mortality was higher for those remaining in level 2 services (aOR 1.44 (1.09 to 1.90)). Among level 3 services, those with higher activity had fewer deaths overall (aOR 0.68 (0.52 to 0.89)).
Interpretation Despite national policy, only 56% of births between 22 and 26 weeks of gestation occurred in maternity services with a level 3 neonatal facility. Survival was significantly enhanced following birth in level 3 services, particularly those with high activity; this was not at the cost of increased neonatal morbidity.
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