Department of Health sets out plans for doctors to cut UK child death rates

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 20 February 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f1155
  1. Adrian O’Dowd
  1. 1London

The government has announced a new drive to reduce the rate of child mortality in the United Kingdom, which is currently one of the worst in Europe.1

Doctors will be able to look at colour coded maps showing local health trends for conditions such as asthma and diabetes, while GPs may be offered more training in children’s health, under proposals from the government.

The Department of Health published its official response2 on 19 February to the Children and Young People’s Health Outcomes Forum, a body set up by the government last year to identify health issues important to young people, which reported back in July3 4 that there was a pressing need for improvement.

The new “pledge” by the Department of Health to cut child deaths is being described as part of various steps to make radical improvements to the health of children and young people.

The need for improvement is underlined in an accompanying pledge document signed by many organisations (such as the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Royal College of GPs, NHS Commissioning Board, and Care Quality Commission), which mentions various statistics, including:

  • More than a quarter (26%) of children’s deaths showed identifiable failure in the child’s direct care

  • More than 30% of children aged 2 to 15 years are overweight or obese

  • About 75% of hospital admissions of children with asthma could have been prevented in primary care.

For its part, the government said that it would start a “data revolution” so that the NHS and local authorities had access to better information to use when improving the health of young people.

England’s chief medical officer will lead a new Children and Young People’s Health Outcomes Board, to bring health leaders together.

Local NHS organisations will be asked to review health services to see how they interact with young people or investigate why they might have children with lower survival rates for conditions such as cancer.

Action to deal with this problem could include increasing numbers of specialist staff or making sure GPs are better trained in children’s health to enable them to make earlier diagnoses.

In the document, the department said that it supported a proposal by the Royal College of General Practitioners that GP training should be extended for a fourth year to include paediatrics, child health, and mental health. The department would carry out work to see whether this was affordable.

Another college proposal that every general practice should have a named medical and nursing lead on children and young people was something that needed to be explored, said the document, to look at the “practical and resource implications.”

A new health and wellbeing survey of 15 year olds in England will be piloted with the intention of generating data on local health problems, including drug and alcohol use as well as information on bullying. There are also plans for colour coded health maps to allow doctors to see local health trends.

Health minister Dan Poulter said: “For too long, Britain’s childhood mortality rates have been among the worst in Europe when compared to similar countries. The pledge that we are making today demonstrates how all parts of the system will play their part and work together to improve children’s health.”

President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Hilary Cass, said he was encouraged by the government’s commitment and added: “It’s crucial that this momentum is maintained and that outcomes are regularly measured to drive improvements.”

“We will be directly involved in a number of areas, which include enhancing the use of medicines in children and working with GPs to ensure paediatrics is part of their training.”

Hilary Emery, chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau charity, said: “As these plans are implemented it is vital that children and young people are listened to within all aspects of the health system, both as patients fully involved in decisions about their care, but also as valued participants in shaping health services and public health initiatives.”


Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f1155