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NHS launches digital tool to protect children's health

Press release issued: 1 April 2019

A world-leading system which will provide a "major boost" to children's health and safety was launched today [Monday 1 April].

The National Child Mortality Database (NCMD) funded by NHS England and developed by the University of Bristol, is the first of its kind anywhere in the world to record comprehensive data – standardised across the country - on the circumstances of children’s deaths, to ensure lessons are learned by health and care professionals.

Improving outcomes for children and young people is at the heart of the NHS Long Term Plan, published in January, and commits not only to reducing avoidable mortality in children and young people but also to improving and transforming the quality of care, including a safe transition to adulthood.

The new system will be the only national record of child mortality anywhere in the world, which looks at not just the circumstances surrounding the death but the impact of factors like ethnicity, economic background and other environmental issues.

The database will allow detailed analysis of groupings of child deaths, like death from asthma, so that the links between mortality and care as well as environmental factors like air pollution and smoking at home are properly understood and tackled.

The Long-Term Plan for the NHS in England sets out a first-ever national Children and Young People's Care Transformation programme, which will be informed by representatives from charities, patient groups, the health sector and other key stakeholders to put in place evidence-based care, illness prevention and support for all children throughout their life.

Dr Jacqueline Cornish, NHS England’s National Clinical Director Children, Young People and Transition to Adulthood, said: "Every child's death is devastating and the impact on parents lasts a lifetime, and by learning from each personal tragedy we can help to prevent more families from suffering.

"As we set out a programme of improvements to young people’s care in the NHS through our Long-Term Plan, this new National Child Mortality Database - the first of its kind anywhere in the world to collect such detailed data - is a major boost and will give us the best possible insight into avoidable factors in a child’s death.  This means we can make improvements not only in front line patient care, but also with our partners in education, social care, other agencies and of course families themselves, so we can achieve the best possible outcomes for children and young people.

"Pollution inside or outside the home, has a significant impact on everyone’s health, and this new national database will allow for a detailed understanding of factors that impact children’s safety and health, like parents smoking in the home, as well as helping to map areas where child death and levels of air pollution are both high."

The National Child Mortality Database, commissioned by the Healthcare Quality Improvement Partnership (HQIP) and led by the University of Bristol, will:

  • Collect, collate and data from local reviews of all child deaths in England;
  • Track patterns of death across the country, and identifying ways to intervene in common factors including reducing the impact of lifestyle and environmental factors like pollution and economic background;
  • Publish reports of information from all child deaths across England, and develop guidance for health and other public organisation leaders to improve care or take preventive action.

Professor Russell Viner, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), said: "Despite having the best healthcare system in the world, over 2,500 children are dying every year in England and Wales. Concerning still, is the fact that the number of child deaths have been creeping up over recent years. 

"Currently, UK infant mortality is 30 per cent higher than other comparable European countries with factors such as high numbers of women who smoke during pregnancy and low breastfeeding rates contributing to this.

"The launch of the new national Child Mortality Database will track patterns of death across the country, identifying ways to intervene and where possible, prevent other children dying in the same way. This insight is desperately needed and we as child health experts, look forward to seeing the positive impact this tool will make in this country."

Dr Karen Luyt, NCMD Programme Lead from the Bristol Medical School at the University of Bristol, added: "Bringing national child death review data together to be analysed centrally is a world first and will provide additional learning for health workers and families, beyond what can be achieved within local systems. The NCMD will drive improvement in the quality of health and social care for children in England, helping us to hear the stories of families, to remember those children who have died and enable the protection of future children."

Since 2008, local child death reviews by council and health groups have assessed cases in their community, offering important but limited insight, which the national database will address by making consistent the way information is collected and presented. 

The database will collect information on any death of children from birth up to age 18 and will be the first in the world to do so.

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