Little improvement on reducing avoidable child deaths, new data shows

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has today published 2017 data on avoidable deaths.

The latest data from the Office for National Statistics on avoidable mortality have been published, and for children and young people they reveal little improvement since 2014.

In relation to children and young people, the data for 2017 show:

  • Of all deaths among children and young people aged 0 to 19 years in the UK, 34% were considered avoidable (1,653 deaths out of 4,918).
  • Overall, avoidable deaths in children and young people made up 1% of the total number of avoidable deaths.
  • Between 2014 and 2016, Northern Ireland accounted for the highest avoidable mortality rates within children and young people across the UK constituent countries; however, in 2017 Scotland’s mortality rate was highest.
  • Even though the mortality rates in children and young people have fluctuated each year, there have been no statistically significant improvements since 2014.
  • Injuries have been the leading cause of avoidable mortality in children and young people with 712 deaths reported in 2017 - a decline of 43 deaths since 2014.
  • The second-leading causes of death in children and young people were maternal and infant causes with the number of deaths remaining at 470 since 2016.

Responding to the ONS avoidable mortality data for children and young people, Professor Russell Viner, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), said:

With over a third (34%) of deaths classed as avoidable in 2017 and little improvement shown since 2014, these latest statistics paint a worrying picture.

Inside the womb, there are a number of factors that increase a child’s risk of death and these include exposure to smoke, alcohol and other harmful substances, a mother’s weight and mental health status. Outside the womb, these all still have an impact, but exposure to areas high in road traffic also heighten this risk.

The Government has made some progress in relation to reducing these risks with the publication of the NHS Long Term Plan and commitments to strengthen tobacco controls and the establishment of a National Child Mortality Database, allowing lessons to be learnt and avoidable deaths prevented. However, more needs to be done in relation to reducing child poverty – a factor which underpins many of these issues – and investing in health visitors and reversing cuts to public health budgets is an important place to start.

With the highest avoidable mortality rates in the UK, the Scottish Government in particular, has an important job to do. Scottish Government is certainly moving in the right direction following the announcement of a series of commitments aimed at tackling child poverty and obesity. However, despite recommending a Scotland-wide child death review process to be implemented over four years ago,  this is yet to actually be established.Scottish Government must move forward with this promise to help reverse this worrying trend and bring them in line with England and Wales where this type of learning already takes place.