Call for action to stop high rate of child mortality

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A new report claims that the risk of premature death in the UK is higher than in other Western European countries.


A main cause of death in children under one is premature birth, says the report

Written by leading child health experts for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) and the National Children’s Bureau (NCB), ‘Why Children die’ blames a growing gap between the rich and poor and a lack of targeted public health policies for the increased risk of premature death in this country.

According to the report, an estimated 2,000 additional children, the equivalent of five a day, die in the UK compared to the best performing country Sweden.

The authors claim that in 2012, over 3,000 babies died before the age of one and over 2,000 children and young people died between the ages of one and 19 in this country.

The most disadvantaged were more likely to experience premature death.

They go on to list the main causes of child deaths, based on a review of existing UK evidence. For children under one it is pre-term birth and low birth weight. Maternal age, smoking in pregnancy and disadvantage are all risk factors.

For children over the age of one, injury is the most frequent cause of death.

The report claims that in most cases these deaths could be prevented through a combination of societal changes political engagement and improved training for children’s healthcare professionals.

The RCPCH and NCB make a number of recommendations to stop preventable causes of death, including:

  • taking action to reduce poverty and inequality by withdrawing the new cap on welfare spending and implementing a safety net so the risks of rising living costs do harm families with the lowest incomes;
  • implementing measures to promote healthy pregnancy such as high-quality PSHE and SRE (Sex and Relationship Education) lessons in schools and action across the health system to promote smoking cessation in pregnancy;
  • creating healthy, safe communities and environments by reducing the national speed limit in built up areas to 20mph;
  • developing an action plan for improving child and adolescent mental health services;
  • better training for healthcare staff;
  • the creation of a national child mortality database to ensure data can be compared and analysed across the UK.

Hilary Emery, chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau (NCB), said, ‘There are currently 3.5 million children living in poverty across the UK, that’s one in four; twice that of many industrialised nations. This report clearly illustrates the direct impact persistent inequality in our society has on the life chances of the most disadvantaged children and young people.

‘The Government needs to bring forward a revised child poverty strategy that has tackling health inequality as a central focus to prevent the disproportionate number of deaths amongst children in low-income families. Equally important is enhancing the well-being and resilience of our children through education, and ensuring that every child grows up in a place that is healthy and safe.

‘Now is the time to act, to ensure that all our children have the opportunity to fulfil their potential and live long and healthy lives, regardless of their circumstances.’

The NCB and RCPCH research follows publication of a report by the Department of Health's Children and Young People's Health Outcome Forum.

The Forum's first annual report shows that by investing in early intervention the pressure on the health service will be reduced in the long-term.

Similiar to 'Why Children Die', the Department of Health report makes a number of recommendations including- a bigger role for schools with a greater focus on public health and early intervention and prevention.


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