As part of her talk at this year's Primary Care conference, Dr Jane Hawdon urged all maternity wards to invest in new technology to test for bilirubin in order to stem the rising number of cases of kenicterus in the UK.

Speaking as part of the Mother and Baby programme, the consultant neonatologist said the business and health cases for bilirubinometers made them an essential investment for all hospitals despite their high capital cost.

"Kenicterus [brain damage from jaundice in babies] costs £5.5 million per year and there are six or seven new cases every year in the UK," she said.

"The most common sign of jaundice is bilirubin [the blood cell which causes yellow discolouration], every baby with more than 625 bilirubin in the US has sequaelee.

"So it's important to examine all babies for jaundice at every possible opportunity in the first 72 hours. But visual identification of bilirubin is not accurate enough so bilirubinometers are a must."

Dr Hawdon explained how the machines would generate an annual recurring net saving of £15,000 per 1,000 people but did admit that many NHS Trusts would struggle to pay the upfront costs during the current cuts climate.

As an additional warning, Dr Hawdon said: "Eighty per cent of babies develop jaundice, it's not harmful unless they have high bilirubin so it's crucial we detect it as earlier as possible.

"It's also been shown that [along with other factors] babies who are exclusively breastfed have, on average, higher risk of bilirubinaemia, so this is something midwives and health visitors should speak to mothers about."

For more information on breastfeeding and jaundice visit 

Posted 24/05/2012 by