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Recent data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has shown that infant mortality rates have risen for the third year in a row.
The figures for 2016 show that there were 2651 infant deaths in 2016 compared with 2578 in 2015. Infant deaths are defined as deaths of those aged under one year. The increase has therefore meant that the infant mortality rate has changed from 3.7 deaths per 1,000 live births to 3.8.
Infant deaths had shown a steady decrease over the past years, with 6313 in 1986 however since 2014 the figures have started to increase.
In addition, the ONS cause groups illustrate that immaturity-related conditions, such as respiratory and cardiovascular disorders were the most common cause of infant deaths and neonatal deaths in 2016. Neonatal deaths are classified as deaths of those under 28 days of age. Congenital anomalies were another major cause for infant deaths and neonatal deaths. The findings of this latest research may have the potential to help raise awareness of the common causes of infant deaths and therefore may help ensure preventative measures can be put into place to help reduce the number of future infant deaths occurring as a direct result. This may have the potential to help reduce the number of medical negligence claims occurring as a result.
The findings of the research also highlight significant variations in infant mortality rate by region, with the lowest rate of 3.1 infant deaths per 1000 live births in the East, compared with 6 per 1000 live births in the West Midlands.
The significant regional variations suggest that Trusts may need to learn from other regions in order to implement best practices going forward and to help reduce the number of infant deaths occurring. Trusts that fall into regions with a higher infant mortality rate may find themselves facing a hospital negligence claim or birth injury claim should negligence have occurred.
Commenting on the regional variations Gill Walton, Chief Executive of the Royal College of Midwives said:
“The regional variations in rates are worrying. Trusts and regions must look to other areas where there are improvements being made to see why they are not doing as well, and to learn from those areas so that the regional variations are lessened. There is no doubt that in areas of high depravation, infant death rates are higher and this is where services need targeted resource.”
The extensive research and findings provide an insight into the occurrence of infant deaths across England and Wales. By understanding the common cause groups of death it is hoped that additional research can help prevent the occurrence of these going forward. In addition, it provides a greater understanding which enables midwives and medical professionals to help ensure they are actively monitoring these.
Gill Walton, Chief Executive of the Royal College of Midwives said:
“While we cannot make a direct connection between staffing levels, pressures on our maternity systems and infant mortality rates, there is no doubt that overworked and under-resourced services cannot deliver the safest and highest quality care.”