Lancet paper reveals 1 in 5 child deaths in England are preventable

New research published in the Lancet shows that 1 in 5 child deaths in England are preventable - echoing many of the findings in the RCPCH and NCB's Why Children Die report published earlier in the year.  

Child deaths have fallen to very low rates in all industrialised countries, but many deaths in children and adolescents are still potentially preventable, and much more could be done to cut future deaths, according to the new three-part Series on child deaths in high-income countries.

The Series highlights the substantial number of preventable deaths. For example, 20% of child deaths reviewed in England between 2010 and 2011 were from preventable causes including accidents, suicide, abuse, and neglect. Moreover, the Series reveals that death rates vary widely between and within high income countries and between different age groups. For example, in England and Wales, death rates tend to be higher in the Midlands and north England and lower in the south and east.

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.

"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."

Dr Hilary Cass, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health says it is a 'wake-up call' for healthcare professionals and policy makers:

"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 1 in 5 child deaths in England could be prevented.  This is a serious wake-up call for both healthcare professionals and policy makers and we have to act urgently.  

“As healthcare professionals, first and foremost we have to take responsibility for making improvements that relate directly to the healthcare system.  So that means ensuring all frontline health professionals involved in the acute assessment of children and young people are confident and competent to recognise a sick child and know what to do about it.  And we must put children and young people at the heart of service delivery by developing flexible multi-disciplinary models.

“But there are also other factors outside the health sector that affect child mortality and which require broader policy change.  As we found in our recent report Why Children Die, risk of child death disproportionality affects poorer families.  So the focus has to be on reducing the gap between rich and poor and supporting those families who are less well off.

“When it comes to deaths in under 1’s, that means action across the health system to reduce risky behaviours of mothers during pregnancy, such as smoking.  We also need to look at the worryingly high levels of accidents, suicides, and abuse which are highly preventable deaths in 15-19 year olds.   It also 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.  We also want to see some practical measures such as the reduction of the national speed limit in built up areas to 20mph and the introduction of Graduated Licensing Schemes for novice drivers to reduce road deaths.

“Only with collective action and some bold policies will we be able to make inroads into tackling the UK’s poor child mortality rate. As more data and information emerges, it’s becoming all the more clear that acting quickly is vital if we’re to save children’s lives.”


The Lancet papers can be viewed here

Read the RCPCH’s and NCB’s Why Children Die report here