Britain has one of the highest mortality rates in Western Europe for children under five, new research has revealed. Experts say factors like poverty, deprivation and smoking during pregnancy contributed to the premature deaths of 3,000 children in 2012.
Infants born in Great Britain are more likely to die before their fifth birthday than any other country in Western Europe, apart from Malta, according to a study by the University of Washington and published in the Lancet journal.
The study calculates the mortality rate at 4.9 deaths for every 1,000 births in the UK, which is 25 percent higher than the Western European average. The study’s authors said they were surprised that a developed country that had pioneered a public health system had higher rates than poorer countries like Greece and Cyprus.
The UK’s mortality rate is comparable with those of Poland and Serbia.
"We were surprised by these findings because the UK has made so many significant advances in public health over the years," Dr Christopher Murray, the study’s principal director told The Guardian. "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."
The study highlights the fact that although the childhood death rate fell between 1990 and 2013, the speed of the drop has slowed recently.
Poverty and deprivation caused by cuts in welfare contribute to the large amount of deaths among children under five in the UK, suggests the study. Infants are more likely to die if they come from a poorer family, or have parents that smoked and drank during pregnancy.
Editor-in-chief of the Lancet, Richard Hooton said that one of the main factors contributing to the high rate of mortality was "the poor organization 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,” he told the Times.
The countries with the least deaths of infants under five in Europe are Iceland, Andorra and Sweden. In addition, countries that surpassed Britain outside Europe included Australia, Israel, Japan, Singapore and South Korea.
The UK has been hit hard by the financial crisis in Europe and as a result has seen a rise in poverty and the use of food banks across the country. According to The Trussell Trust, Britain's largest food bank charity, 913,138 people received emergency food aid from the organization in 2013-2014, compared to just 346,992 in 2012-2013 – marking an increase of 163 percent. The organization has said the coalition government’s harsh cuts to Britain’s welfare system have had a significant effect on the poorer population.