One in five child deaths could be prevented

Topics covered: Ridouts professional advice

According to reports in The Lancet around one in five child deaths could be prevented.

Figures show that around 5,000 children die each year, with 15- to 17-year-olds having the highest proportion of preventable deaths from suicide, accidents, abuse and neglect.

In a series of three reports looking at child deaths in high-income countries, researchers used previously published figures to compare death rates. They also looked in detail at patterns of child mortality in England and Wales and sometimes for the UK.

In the past one hundred years, the number of child deaths in England and Wales has fallen in all age groups, the report says.

It was found that child mortality in the UK remained high because of the income gap between rich and poor.

Dr Peter Sidebotham, series lead author and associate professor of child health at the University of Warwick, said more could be done to prevent child deaths across all age groups. He 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 socio-economic policies that reduce inequality as it is to a country’s overall gross domestic product and systems of healthcare delivery.”

Researchers concluded that all countries should explore the different factors that contribute to every child death and that this knowledge could be used to help prevent more deaths.

Dr Sidebotham said: “Child death review processes that are being developed in many high-income countries provide important details of the circumstances surrounding a death and can add to a greater understanding of how and why children die. To be effective, child death reviews need to conducted by multi-disciplinary teams that share information about the circumstances of child deaths, with the goal of preventing future deaths and improving child health and welfare.”

Dr Hilary Cass, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said the figures were a serious wake-up call for both healthcare professionals and policymakers.

According to Dr Hilary Cass, the high levels of deaths caused by accidents, suicides, and abuse in 15-19-year-olds was worrying and action was needed. She said: “It means equipping all professionals with the knowledge and skills to identify mental health difficulties early, better access to mental health support for children and young people, and making sure that Ofsted’s inspection framework for early years settings, schools and colleges includes consideration of the extent to which these settings promote children and young people’s social and emotional wellbeing.”

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