This is the first of two papers describing a retrospective study of maternity hospitals in an English health region using data for the years 1977-83. The research was designed to investigate the relationship between resources (such as staff and equipment) and the outcomes of births at maternity units. Considerable variation in medical and nursing staffing levels in the units in the study was observed. Regression analysis suggests that, after taking account of differences in very low weight births at each unit, the level of paediatric staffing at a maternity unit is a significant factor in explaining differences in "in house" mortality. There was no identifiable relationship between staff categories other than paediatricians and the rate of perinatal death at the hospital of delivery. As selective referral and transfers between hospitals may affect the interpretation of these findings, a second paper follows presenting the results of a further analysis that adjusts both resources and outcomes to take account of neonatal transfers.
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