Around 700 child deaths in England could be avoided by reducing deprivation, report says

More than a fifth of deaths of children in England could be avoided each year by reducing deprivation, a study has found.

Research led by the University of Bristol National Child Mortality Database (NCMD) found a clear association between increased levels of deprivation and a greater risk of death for all categories except cancer.

The NHS England-funded report found that around 700 child deaths a year (23%) could be avoided if those in the most deprived areas had the same mortality risk as those in the least deprived parts of the country.

Researchers analysed the records of 3,347 children who died in England between April 1 2019 and March 31 2020.

They used the Government’s measure of deprivation, based on income, employment, education, health, crime, access to housing and services, and living environment, to calculate a score from 1-10 for where each child lived.

For each point up on the scale, the risk of death increased 10%, with the mortality rate more than twice as high in the most deprived areas compared to the least deprived.

Almost two thirds (63.0%) of the deaths occurred when the child was less than a year old, and most of the children lived in urban areas (87.8%) and were white (62.0%).

The team also analysed 212 child death records where deprivation was mentioned as part of the national Child Death Review (CDR) process.

Social issues, such as family debt, financial difficulties, homelessness and mental health, were the most frequently reported factors.

One in 12 children were found to have experienced at least one deprivation-related factor, with a main theme being housing issues.

Common concerns were a lack of cleanliness, unsuitable accommodation, and maintenance issues such as damp or mould.

A housing issue was identified in 123 deaths reviewed, while in 33 deaths homelessness was mentioned.

Karen Luyt (pictured), Professor in Neonatal Medicine at the University of Bristol, NCMD programme lead and the report’s senior author, said: “Our report finds strong evidence of a relationship between childhood mortality and social deprivation in England; backed up by other published evidence of widespread and consistent associations between poverty, social deprivation, and death.

“The value of this work is to derive learning from each child’s death to inform policy and improve children’s life chances in the future.”

Professor Sir Michael Marmot, director of the Institute of Equity at University College London and author of the report’s foreword, said benefits such as child benefit must be urgently increased.

He said: “In a rich society, deprivation should be avoidable – particularly of the kind that leads to deaths of infants and children.

“Such improvement is possible. Inequalities that are judged to be avoidable by reasonable means, and are not avoided, are inequitable. Putting them right is a matter of social justice.”

Imran Hussain, director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, said: “Preventing avoidable child deaths by reducing child poverty should be the litmus test of levelling up.

“Levelling up will be meaningless for many if children’s lives continue to be cut short because of poverty and hardship.

“As a country and as individuals, we’ve made a huge national effort to protect and save lives over the last year, we must do the same for our children.”

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