BRITAIN has one of the highest death rates for infants and young children in western Europe, researchers have found.
In 2013 the UK also had the largest absolute number of under-five deaths in the region, a total of 3,800.
Compared with other European countries, the UK’s under-fives mortality rate of 4.9 deaths per 1,000 births was on a par with that of Serbia and Poland. It was more than double the figure for Iceland, the country with the lowest rates.
In western Europe, Britain had the worst record for deaths of children aged one to four years, and one of the worst for deaths in the first six days of life, and for infants aged between a month and a year.
Judged alongside countries outside Europe, the UK had a higher childhood death rate than Australia, Israel, Japan, Singapore and South Korea.
Study leader Dr Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington in Seattle, US, said: “We were surprised by these findings because the UK has made so many significant advances in public health over the years.
“The higher-than-expected child death rates in the UK are a reminder to all of us that, even as we are seeing child mortality decline worldwide, countries need to examine what they are doing to make sure more children grow into adulthood.”
Across Europe, death rates for under-fives were substantially worse in central and eastern regions than in the west. The rate for central Europe was 6.7 per 1,000 births and for eastern Europe 9.7 per 1,000 births.
Although the rate of childhood deaths fell in the UK between 1990 and 2013, the speed of the decline slowed, according to the researchers in The Lancet medical journal.
Between 2000 and 2013, it was half that seen in the previous decade.
Dr Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of The Lancet, said: “These figures show the significant health burden that children bear in the UK compared with their European neighbours. The reasons for this are likely to be complex, but undoubtedly include the poor organisation of children’s health services in the UK.
“Until our politicians begin to take the health of children – the health of the next generation of British citizens – more seriously, newborns and older children will continue to suffer and die needlessly.”