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Pain relief for neonates in Australian hospitals: A need to improve evidence-based practice


Correspondence: Dr Peter H Gray, Department of Neonatology, Mater Mothers' Hospital, Raymond Tce, South Brisbane, Qld 4101, Australia. Fax: +61 7 3840 1949; email:


Objective: To ascertain the extent to which neonatal analgesia was used in Australia for minor invasive procedures as an indicator of evidence-based practice in neonatology.

Methods: A cross-sectional telephone survey of hospitals in all Australian states and territories with more than 200 deliveries per year was carried out. Questions were asked regarding awareness of the benefits and the use of analgesia for minor invasive procedures in term and near term neonates. Analysis was undertaken according to state and territory, annual birth numbers and the level of neonatal nursery care available.

Results: Data were available from 212 of 214 eligible hospitals. Of the total respondents, 51% and 70% respectively were aware of the benefits of sucrose and breast-feeding for neonatal analgesia. Eleven per cent of units administered sucrose before venepuncture and 25% of units used breast-feeding. Ten per cent of units used sucrose before heel prick with 49% utilizing breast-feeding. Expressed breast milk was used in 10% of units. Analgesia was given less frequently before intravenous cannulation compared to venepuncture and heel prick. Awareness and implementation of neonatal analgesia varied widely in the states and territories. There was a trend for hospitals providing a higher level of neonatal care to have a greater awareness of sucrose as an analgesic (P < 0.0001) and the use of sucrose for venepuncture (P = 0.029), heel prick (P = 0.025) and intravenous catheter insertion (P = 0.013). Similar trends were found on analysis according to birth number of the maternity units. Smaller units had a greater usage of breast-feeding as an analgesic for heel prick (P = 0.017).

Conclusion: Despite good evidence for the administration of sucrose and breast milk in providing effective analgesia for newborn infants, it is not widely used in Australia. It is imperative that the gap between research findings and clinical practice with regard to neonatal analgesia be addressed.

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