Deaths data for England and Wales shows that infant mortality increased for the first time since 2011 last year amid signs that decades worth of improvements are plateauing, reports The Independent. Published by the UK’s Office of National Statistics (ONS), it reveals four children died before their first birthday for every 1,000 live births – an increase of 2.6% on the rate for the previous three years of 3.9 infant deaths per 1,000 births. The increase means that improvements in infant mortality have stagnated since 2010, falling from 4.3 per 1,000 births to 4.0.
The report says in the previous seven years, to 2003, death rates fell from 5.3 to 4.3 per 1,000 and had had trended down at a similar rate since 1991 – after major falls in the late 1980s. While overall infant deaths fell, there are far fewer children being born and a separate ONS publication shows births are at their lowest levels since 2006 – with 679,106 children born in Enlgand and Wales last year. “The number of infant deaths decreased in 2017, but because the number of live births decreased more significantly, the infant mortality rate rose for the first time in five years,” said Vasita Patel, from the ONS.
The data encapsulates the aging population of the UK with mothers having fewer children and at an older age.
Infant mortality was highest in the West Midlands in England, at 5.5 deaths per 1,000. The increase in infant mortality was actually greater in Wales, rising 9.7%. However overall infant mortality was still lower than in England.
“This data is deeply alarming and we urgently need an inquiry into this worrying upturn in infant deaths,” said Labour shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth. “Narrowing health inequalities and improving the health and wellbeing of every child will be an explicit aim of the next Labour government. In the coming months the government’s 10-year health plan must follow Labour’s lead and prioritise child health outcomes.”
The report says a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson disputed the findings. “These claims are misleading – the number of infant deaths decreased in 2017, but the mortality rate was affected by a drop in the number of live births”, they said. “There is still more work to be done, which is why we’ve invested millions of pounds in training for staff and equipment and recently announced the largest ever increase in midwifery training places.”