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Specially trained physiotherapists should be involved in the care plans of premature babies from as soon after they are born as possible.
This is according to new clinical guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which recommend that the expertise of neonatal physiotherapists is used more commonly when it comes to treating preterm babies.
Statistics from NICE show that around 50,000 babies are born prematurely each year in the UK, with many facing developmental challenges as a result. For example, they may face delays in starting to walk, but earlier intervention from specialist physiotherapists could help to identify the likelihood of this and enable them to receive more support.
Neonatal physiotherapists could also help with cognitive and sensory developmental challenges, advising parents on exercises and activities they can do with their child to give them the best possible chance in their early years.
NICE has recommended that physios should be involved in preterm infants' care plans until they reach the age of two, carrying out assessments, advising on treatment and attending face-to-face follow-up appointments to monitor progress.
Speaking to healthcare publication Frontline on behalf of the Association of Paediatric Chartered Physiotherapists, Hillary Cruickshank said: "The role of neonatal physiotherapists is supported by a detailed competence framework which will support staff in developing the appropriate skills required to work with this vulnerable population.
"Neonatal physiotherapists are highly skilled practitioners and experts in the type of assessment required to look for deficit at two years in order to access appropriate therapy interventions at the earliest opportunity for these vulnerable infants."
NICE's ruling could lead to more opportunities being created for neonatal physiotherapists or for healthcare workers with transferable skills. The healthcare body hopes that greater involvement from these specialists will lead to significantly better outcomes and fewer developmental delays for the thousands of children who are born prematurely in the UK each year.
Written by Mathew Horton
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