More than 3,700 children died in England between April 2022 and March 2023, including those who died as a result of abuse and neglect, suicide, perinatal and neonatal events and surgery, new data from the National Child Mortality Database has revealed – with more than a third of the deaths considered avoidable.
Children in poorer areas were twice as likely to die as those in the richest, while 15 per cent of those who died were known to social services.
The UK’s top children’s doctor, Dr Camilla Kingdon, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, hit out at the government for failing to act to tackle child poverty, which she said was driving the “unforgivable” and “avoidable” deaths.
The report said: “Whilst the death rate in the least deprived neighbourhoods decreased slightly from the previous year, the death rate for the most deprived areas continued to rise, demonstrating widening inequalities.”
Overall child deaths for last year rose from 3,454 in 2021-22, 3,056 in 2020-21, and 3,414 in 2019-20, and there was a large spike in the number of deaths of children under the age of four since the Covid lockdown in 2021.
For Black children, the death rate was more than double that of white children, at 56.6 per 100,000 compared with 25 per 100,000.
Some 3,271 reviews were carried out into last year’s deaths, which found that 39 per cent of them could have been avoided with intervention, up from 36 per cent the year before.
520 babies out of just over 1,000 perinatal and neonatal deaths recorded
78 deaths linked to medical or surgical conditions
71 child suicides
55 infection-related deaths
54 deaths related to deliberately inflicted abuse or neglect
According to the report, 15 per cent of children who died last year were known to social services at the time of their death, with 42 per cent of the 496 deaths reviewed considered avoidable.
Dr Kingdon said: “This is a harrowing but avoidable statistic. Behind this awful data published today is a whole raft of deteriorating child health outcomes, and the clear driver is rising child poverty in the UK.
“Poverty, health inequalities and the associated loss of life is not inevitable. Poverty is a political choice, and our government has had ample opportunity to tackle it. If our government wants to get serious about health, then it must also get serious about poverty and inequality.”
Dr Kingdon added: “Figures such as these in a nation as rich as ours are unforgivable. Reducing child poverty must finally become a national priority. We need to see a clear strategy, with measurable targets across national and local levels, and a strong emphasis on preventative health measures. This has to be a wake-up call for us all and I urge our political leaders to action.”
A government spokesperson said: “There are 1.7 million fewer people in absolute poverty than in 2010, including 400,000 children, and we are providing a record support package worth £3,300 per household on average.
“From October 2022, local maternity and neonatal systems began to publish equity and equality action plans to tackle disparities experienced by women and babies from ethnic minorities and those living in the most deprived areas. This is based on NHS England’s national guidance and is supported by a £6.8m investment.”