Child mortality from trauma, sudden death rising in England: Study
A study published in Jama Network Open reveals the increase in child mortality from trauma and sudden unexpected death in England.
Child mortality from trauma and sudden unexpected death increased last year, according to figures highlighting poverty's sharp impact on child health, The Guardian reported.
The study involved all child deaths in England from 2019 to 2022 and found overall mortality dipped during the pandemic due to a decrease in infectious illnesses, but death rate has since returned to pre-pandemic levels. This included a 32% increase in trauma deaths and a 13% rise in sudden unexpected death in childhood (Sudic) last year compared with pre-pandemic rates.
The numbers could be “the first mortality signal” from families hardly dealing with the cost of living crisis, according to Prof Karen Luyt, the program lead for the National Child Mortality Database, based at the University of Bristol.
“This is worrying and I think we’re likely to see things getting worse,” she said. “Certainly for childhood illness and mortality, we know there’s a strong social gradient and we know that more families are now living in poverty.”
Sudic deaths are an unexplained and unexpected death, but may happen due to a cardiac arrest after an infection or an asthma attack, for example. It is a broader category than sudden infant death syndrome (Sids), where often the cause of death remains a mystery even after the postmortem examination.
Of the children who died in the Sudic category, four times as many came from the most deprived fifth of the population, compared with the least deprived fifth.
The results cover the period up to March 2022, and the team was projecting worse numbers for the latest year, due to the high levels of infection this winter and the increasing cost of living, Luyt said.
The study was published in the journal Jama Network Open and used data from the NCMD cohort, which collects detailed information on every child death in England. It covered 9,872 child deaths over three 12-month periods spanning April 1, 2019 to March 31, 2022. Of these deaths, 6,257 (63%) were under one year of age, the majority (56%) were male (5,534 deaths), and 8,766 (89%) lived in an urban area.
England recorded 3,409 child deaths between 2019 and 2020, the first period studied, but this reduced significantly to 3,035, due to less infections in younger children during the first year of the pandemic. However, since the pandemic, the number went up again to 3,428. The reasons behind the rise in trauma deaths are not clear. They steadily increased over the whole three-year period and include a wide range of causes from drowning to car accidents, knife injuries, and home accidents.
These findings come after a report this week that showed homelessness may have been a reason in the deaths of at least 34 children in England between April 2019 and March 2022.
Dr Laura Neilson, an A&E doctor who led the findings on homelessness, described the figures as “heartbreaking”.
“We were shocked by the number of children this initial research identified as dying with them being in temporary accommodation,” Neilson said. “This data shows the children we’ve lost, the families forever changed because of temporary housing and poverty. As a doctor this is a health issue caused by social factors that can be prevented and stopped.”