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Relatively high rate of UK child deaths to be probed

Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health begins two year review

Caroline White

Friday, 18 May 2012

Child health experts have launched an in-depth probe of the reasons behind the relatively high rate of child deaths in the UK, in a bid to reverse the trends.

Child mortality in the UK is among the highest in Europe, but there is little solid evidence on the possible causes, says the Royal College of Paediatrics, which is to spearhead a two year national review of clinical outcomes (Child Health Reviews-UK).

The two-year programme, funded by the Healthcare Quality Improvement Partnership, will carry out a retrospective review, looking at the characteristics of children who have died, and a themed case review focusing on death and illness among children and young people with epilepsy.

Currently, the only comprehensive national overview of underlying conditions and causes of death in children is based on death certificates, which provide limited ancillary information.

But there are no data on underlying conditions, patterns of previous hospital admissions and palliative care at home for terminally ill children.

The retrospective review, which will be led by Ruth Gilbert, Professor of Clinical Epidemiology at the Institute of Child Health, UCL, will link the information on children’s hospital admission records across years and to death certificates and reclassify causes of death using information from death certificates and from the diagnostic codes recorded for hospital admissions immediately preceding death.

It will also categorise underlying chronic conditions, based on the child’s entire hospital care record.

It will seek to find out the characteristics of children who die, and how these change over time

Every year between between 40 and 80 children die as a result of epilepsy. The last national review of clinical care received by children and young people with the condition who died was carried out in 2002. It found that 59% of these child deaths could have been prevented.

The themed review on epilepsy, which will be led by Dr Peter Sidebotham, Associate Professor of Child Health at Warwick Medical School, will involve case reviews of children and young people with epilepsy who die or are severely ill. The review will extend across the entire care pathway, including primary and emergency care.

Professor Neena Modi, the Collegs’ Vice-President for Science and Research said: “Child Health Reviews-UK is groundbreaking and could help improve healthcare and outcomes for children and young people with epilepsy.”

The analysis would be comprehensive and robust, she emphasised, and will draw on a wide range of expertise. “We are determined to highlight best practice in the care of this patient group, identify avoidable factors, and share the lessons that emerge,” she said.

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