Britain has the worst child death rates in western Europe, according to figures that have prompted calls to end the “disorganisation” of child healthcare and tackle smoking and drinking by pregnant women.
Children under five in Britain die at the same rate as those in Serbia or Poland and more often than children in Croatia, Estonia and the Czech Republic, according to a comparison of data from 188 countries in The Lancet.
Last year 3,800 under-fives died in the UK, a rate of 4.9 per 1,000 births, putting Britain 27nd in Europe. Iceland, which tops the table, has a death rate less than half that of Britain’s.
Richard Horton,editor-in-chief of The Lancet, said the reasons for Britain’s poor performance were varied, “but undoubtedly include the poor organisation of children’s health services in the UK”. He added: “Until our politicians begin to take the health of children — the health of the next generation of British citizens — more seriously, newborns and older children will continue to suffer and die needlessly.”
Child deaths worldwide have halved since 1990, but 6.3 million children still died before their fifth birthday in 2013, the research found. Guinea-Bissau, in west Africa, has the highest child mortality rate at 150 per 1,000, according to the study, co-ordinated by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Washington. Singapore has the world’s lowest child death rate, at 2.3 per 1,000. South Korea, Japan and Australia also do better than Britain.
Ingrid Wolfe, from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “These latest figures put us rock bottom of the western European league table.”
The bulk of child deaths occur in a child’s first year, with the majority of those in the first days of life.
“Many [deaths] are due to risky behaviours during pregnancy, for example smoking, which is more common among women who are socially disadvantaged so already at higher risk,” said Dr Wolfe.
The Department of Health said: “Deaths in infants, children and young people are falling, but we recognise that more needs to be done.”
Death rates among children in Britain are as bad as in South Korea, experts warn
The Lancet World Map of Maternal Mortaility rates which are closely associated with Child Death rates: