Wolverhampton City Council is launching an action plan to reduce the "alarming" rates of infant mortality in the city.

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Public Health statistics for 2014 show that Wolverhampton had one of the highest rates of infant mortality in England, with 7.7 deaths of infants in the first year of their life per 1,000 live births compared to the England average of 4.3 deaths per 1,000 live births - with smoking during pregnancy one of its main causes.

Councillor Sandra Samuels, Wolverhampton City Council's Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing, said: "As a council we are determined to reduce the worryingly high rate of preventable infant deaths in our city.

"The death of any child is simply a tragedy, but even more so if it could have been prevented, and so we have been working hard to identify the causes of infant mortality, and what organisations in Wolverhampton can do to reduce the number of preventable deaths."

Over the last 12 months, the council's Public Health Team has worked with partners including the Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust, Wolverhampton Clinical Commissioning Group, social care providers, paediatricians, midwifery services, Wolverhampton Stop Smoking Service and organisations like the sudden infant death charity SANDS to develop a 15 point Infant Mortality Action Plan to tackle this issue.

Local evidence shows there is a 54% increased risk of infant death for women who smoke during pregnancy, while in a review of "modifiable risk factors" for sudden unexplained deaths in infants between 2009 and 2012 found an exposure to tobacco smoke in 55% of cases.

Although smoking rates among expectant mothers have reduced over the years, at 18.6% it still remains higher than the regional and national averages of 14.2% and 12.7% respectively.

Other risk factors include prematurity, very low birth weight, maternal age and deprivation.

Councillor Samuels said: "We have identified the causes of infant mortality that we can do something about and set up a working group involving health and social care agencies across Wolverhampton to address the issues raised. As a result, we have developed a 15 point action plan which we believe will help reduce the number of preventable infant deaths that sadly occur.

"For instance, we know that helping mums to be, their partners and family to quit smoking and promoting the importance of smokefree homes for children will have a positive impact on children in Wolverhampton, not just before they are born and in the first year of their lives, but throughout childhood.

"The action plan also includes promoting smokefree environments, for instance at hospital, improving antenatal detection of potential low birth weights, improving maternal nutrition both during and after pregnancy, promoting breastfeeding and raising awareness of the causes of sudden infant death and the importance of infants sleeping on their backs.

"Above all, we will ensure parents and families have the right help and support to make healthy choices for their children. We will do all we can to ensure we reduce these alarming rates of infant mortality."

The draft Infant Mortality Action Plan was presented to Wolverhampton's Health and Wellbeing Board on Wednesday (4 March). Councillors also commissioned a Scrutiny Review into infant mortality in December, with the findings due to be presented to Cabinet in June.

  • released: Friday 6 March, 2015