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Last Updated: Monday, 27 March 2006, 23:03 GMT 00:03 UK
Warning over infant mortality gap
A baby
Central Birmingham has the highest rates of infant mortality
The government must tackle infant mortality after figures revealed a wide variation in death rates across England, campaigners say.

The charity Bliss found a baby born in Birmingham was eight times more likely to die before its first birthday than one in Surrey from 2002 to 2004.

It said local health bodies needed more advice about providing care to expectant mothers.

In 2004, 2,391 babies died before the age of one out of 500,000 births.

Central Birmingham - 12.4 per 1,000
North Kirklees - 11.2
Central Bradford - 10.4
East Birmingham - 9.2
Central Manchester - 8.6

Two-thirds of deaths before the age of one are attributed to being born prematurely, but other social and biological factors can play a role.

Bliss, which obtained the information from a question asked in parliament by Liberal Democrat MP Sandra Gidley, found that Central Birmingham PCT had the highest rate of infant mortality at 12.4 deaths per 1,000.

North Kirklees and Central Bradford also had rates twice as high as the national average of 5.2.


East Elmbridge and Mid Surrey, East Devon and Central Suffolk all had rates below two.

Bliss, which supports families with premature children, said staying healthy during pregnancy and good ante-natal care could have a huge impact on infant mortality.

It called on the government to provide guidance to primary care trusts about good practice.

The government has promised to reduce infant mortality by 10% by 2010, but latest figures have showed that despite small declines in death rates, the target is in danger of being missed.

East Elmbridge and Mid Surrey - 1.5
East Devon - 1.8
Central Suffolk - 1.9
South Somerset - 2.2
Chiltern and South Bucks - 2.2

Bliss chief executive Rob Williams said: "We urge the government to respond to these shocking disparities in infant mortality rates.

"These targets can only be achieved through the establishment of a national, government-led Infant Mortality Commission to research why there are disparities across England and to recommend ways forward to reduce the rate."

David Field, professor of neo-natal medicine at the University of Leicester, agreed better advice was needed.

"The problem is that we do not know why the most deprived areas have higher rates. It could be diet, intake of alcohol and drugs, stress or the nature of work. More research is needed.

"We also need to ensure there is consistent screening for congenital anomalies, in some areas ultrasound scans are not routinely done."

Ms Gidley said: "These shocking figures are another example of the government's failure to address the inequalities of our healthcare system, despite extra funding.

"In Europe, only Poland and Slovakia have worse infant mortality rates than Britain."

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