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The nursery needs discoveries
  1. H L Halliday
  1. Correspondence to:
    Prof. H Halliday
    Regional Neonatal Unit, Royal Maternity Hospital, Grosvenor Road, Belfast BT12 6BB, UK; h.halliday{at}

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Among Professor Harrison’s important contributions to neonatal medicine was the discovery of the importance of grunting in preterm infants with respiratory distress syndrome1 and the detrimental effects of endotracheal intubation, a finding that led to George Gregory discovering continuous positive airway pressure some three years later.2 This was an important development in neonatal care and Gregory had been influenced by the observations from South Africa.

However, Professor Harrison begins his review by stating, with reference to developments in care of the newborn, that “in recent times the pace of curing has slowed considerably”. He goes on to divide the last 40 years or so into two eras: 1960 to 1980 and 1981 to 2000, saying that the former was “a golden era indeed” whereas the latter period “looks rather sparse” with respect to improvements in neonatal care and declining neonatal mortality. Professor Harrison is correct in listing the prevention of haemorrhagic disease, tetanus, Rhesus disease, and rubella as important landmarks but we should not forget the errors that also occurred in this era: kernicterus, grey baby syndrome, feeding gastrostomies, and cystic brain lesions from hexachlorophene, leading Alex Robertson to name 1950 to 1970 the “heroic” years.3 Not all golden years!

After 1980 Professor Harrison names maternal folic acid supplementation to reduce …

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  • Competing interests: none declared