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A new study has revealed that deaths in children aged under 5 occur one and a half times more often in England than in Sweden.
Researchers have stated that more than 6,000 fewer children would have died between 2003 and 2012 had England’s rate been the same as in Sweden, equating to a difference of over 600 children per year. The alarming figures raise concerns over the level of public health provided in England and the potential role of medical negligence in these deaths.
Somewhat surprisingly, England is thought to have one of the highest rates of child mortality in Western Europe, despite medical care being provided free of charge by the NHS. It is thought that despite having a similar level of economic development to Sweden there is in fact a more unequal distribution of wealth in England which means that overall there is a poorer level of maternal health and well-being during pregnancy.
Overall, the study included more than 3.9 million English births, with 11,392 deaths, and more than a million Swedish births and 1,927 deaths.
The study found that between two days and four years of age, the child mortality rate for England was one and a half times higher than in Sweden, with 29 deaths per 10,000 children in England compared to 19 deaths in Sweden. It is thought that the higher mortality rate in England was attributable to the fact that more babies in England were born with birth anomalies such as heart defects when compared to Sweden. In addition, children born in England typically weighed less at birth, were born earlier or prematurely.
The research attributes a lower child mortality rate in Sweden due to midwives playing a strong role in pre-conception health and easy access to services to help encourage people to stop smoking prior to pregnancy. In Sweden, schools hold sessions for both boys and girls to explain family planning and how to actively take steps to be in the best possible health when planning a pregnancy.
It is hoped that the findings of this study can be used to implement steps to reduce the child mortality rate in England. For example, increased services for those wishing to stop smoking, which is associated with pregnancy and birth complications including a low birth weight. These changes may have an impact on the number of midwife negligence claims or birth injury claims being pursued as a result.
Commenting on the research, lead author Dr Ania Zylbersztejn said:
“While child deaths are still rare, the UK has one of the highest child mortality rates in western Europe. Babies born prematurely or with low birth weight have an increased risk of early death, and those who survive are more likely to have chronic ill health or disability. Families need to be better supported before and during pregnancy to improve maternal health, and in turn to give all children a healthy start in life.”