Infant mortality in England could be 140% higher than other western countries in little more than a decade, according to doctors.
The mortality rate for infants in Britain rose for the first time in 100 years in 2015 and again in 2016. Britain already has the worst record on asthma and respiratory deaths among comparable countries.
Now the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health is warning that a century-long fall in child deaths may be going into reverse after infant mortality rose for two years in a row, a report that experts said should set alarm bells ringing in government.
Russell Viner one of the authors behind the report, has stated: “Unless current trends improve, England is likely to fall further behind countries of similar wealth over the next decade, making it harder to give children the best start in life, receive the care they need and remain healthy into productive, happy adult lives.”
He compared data on England or the UK with figures from the 15 western EU countries plus Australia, Canada and Norway, warning that not only is Britain already doing worse, but others are improving while progress here has stopped.
In 2016 a total of 2,651 babies under one died in England and Wales, an increase of 134 in two years, and the rate of infant mortality is now 3.8 per 1,000 births. The infant mortality rate in England and Wales has risen for two consecutive years after more than a century of continuous improvement. The report says it is already 30% above the median rate across 15 EU countries, but the report projects that if Britain’s mortality rates stay at this level while others continue to improve, they will be 138 per cent higher by 2030. Even if they resume their previous fall, other countries’ improvement will leave Britain’s infant mortality 80 per cent higher.
The new report has revealed that poverty, obesity and low breastfeeding rates are all contributing to deaths in babies under a year old. The college also says that NHS failings result in needless deaths of older children. Young people in England are already less satisfied with their lives than the average for the West and mental health problems are on course to increase by two thirds by 2030.
If trends continue, it also predicts that mental health problems among children and young people in England will increase by 60% by 2020, while emergency department attendances rise by 50%.
However, the UK had higher proportions of women smoking during pregnancy than most EU15+ countries – a key risk factor for infant mortality. The UK also has higher proportions of young mothers and lower breastfeeding rates, both also key risk factors for infant mortality. Higher mortality was also found for preventable causes of death among older children and young people, including common infections and chronic respiratory conditions.
The report says poverty lies at the root of many other risk factors for infant mortality and all of child health. Both the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing responded with calls for greater funding.
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