Exclusive: Target poor in infant mortality

GPs must target their resources on disadvantaged families to cut the growing disparity in infant mortality rates, according to public health minister Caroline Flint.

But no extra funding will be made available because it comes under PCTs’ allocation of money to reduce health inequalities.

A DoH report on infant mortality has recorded that between 2002 and 2004, a total of 9,132 infants died before the age of 12 months in England and Wales. Among families with routine and manual occupations, infant mortality rates were 19 per cent higher than the rest of the population.

This contrasts with a difference of 13 per cent between 1997 and 1999 when the government made a public service agreement that by 2010 this gap would be 10 per cent lower.

Most work will be needed in 46 spearhead local authority areas, known to have the worst health and deprivation indicators, where the infant mortality rate is higher than the rest of England.

GPs in these areas should target interventions at individuals in the social groups most at risk through practice-based commissioning where appropriate.

This would include smoking cessation, obesity and telling parents not to share a bed with their infant and ensure they do not sleep in the prone position.

Children born to teenage mothers, women born in Pakistan or the Caribbean or whose births are registered by the mother alone are all at high risk.

‘Rather than a one size fits all approach, it is looking at different needs,’ said Ms Flint. ‘It’s about looking at how GPs and PCTs are working with young women from their communities.’

The recommendations for England and Wales will be followed by a best practice guide, due to be published in the spring.

Dr Nat Wright, chairman of the RCGP health inequalities group, said: ‘This report could have real potential to reduce health inequalities.’

The report also follows the launch of a screening programme for an inherited metabolic disease in infants younger than two weeks old.

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