One in five child deaths ‘can be avoided’

Dr Peter Sidebotham, Associate Professor of child health at the University of Warwick

Dr Peter Sidebotham, Associate Professor of child health at the University of Warwick

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New research showing child death rates in Yorkshire are among the highest in the country has prompted calls for renewed efforts to tackle the root causes.

The research found that just over five infants died in Yorkshire for every 1,000 born over a two year period compared to 3.6 in the South West.

Almost 21 children in every 100,000 aged between one and four in the region died compared to fewer than 15 in the South East.

In youngsters aged from five to 14, the death rate varied from almost 10 in every 100,000 in Yorkshire compared to fewer than eight in the East of England.

The researchers said there were a number of factors influencing child death rates but identified a “persistent” link between poverty.

The five ‘high income’ countries with the worst child death rates - including the UK - are those with the biggest gaps in incomes between richest and poorest.

The series of studies published in The Lancet medical journal also found that one-in-five of the deaths among young people in England between 2010 and 2011 were preventable.

Causes of death that could have been avoided included accidents, suicide, abuse, and neglect.

Each year around 5,000 infants, children and adolescents die prematurely in England and Wales.

Lead researcher Dr Peter Sidebotham, from Warwick University, said: “It needs to be recognised that many child deaths could be prevented through a combination of changes in long-term political commitment, welfare services to tackle child poverty, and health-care services.

“Politicians should recognise that child survival is as much linked to socioeconomic policies that reduce inequality as it is to a country’s overall gross domestic product and systems of health-care delivery.”

The research team called for improvements to the way doctors deal with ill children, including “careful listening to parents” but called for broader action to reduce risks to young people.

“Much more needs to be done to create healthy environments for children and young people inside and outside their homes,” they said.

While huge progress has been made in reducing child deaths “concerted strategies” are needed to make further inroads, they recommended.

Dr Hilary Cass, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “We’ve known for some time that the UK performs badly compared to its western European counterparts when it comes to child mortality rates - but today’s paper reveals the startling fact that one in five child deaths in England could be prevented.

“This is a serious wake-up call for both healthcare professionals and policymakers and we have to act urgently.”

Dr Cass said action should include reducing risky behaviour by mothers during pregnancy, better access to mental health services for young people and cutting the speed limit in built-up areas to 20 mph.