New Government figures reveal a rise in the number of babies dying within a year of being born in a reversal of decades of progress in reducing infant mortality. Overworked staff and under-resourced services have been blamed by NHS specialists as among the causes for the increase.
Release of the figures has been met with serious concerns among health professionals, charities and midwives who see them as a key indicator of the state of the service.
According to the Office for National Statistics the rate has risen to 2.6 neonatal deaths in the first month of life per 1,000 births in 2015 to 2017. Smoking and obesity among mothers and a shortage of midwives were named as among possible explanations. The infant mortality rate, showing deaths within the first year of life, rose from 3.7 to 3.8 of births. Both sets of figures are the second rise in two years following several decades of falling figures.
Gill Walton, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives, said: “Any increase is a real concern. While we cannot make a direct connection between staffing levels, resources and infant mortality there is no doubt that overworked and under-resourced services cannot deliver the safest and highest quality care.”
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said:” Swingeing cuts to public health and early years services have resulted in this rise producing some of the worse figures in many countries.”
Britain now has the fourth highest infant mortality among the 15 OECD countries examined by the Nuffield Trust and Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.