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Infant Mortality

Volume 202: debated on Tuesday 21 January 1992

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To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will state the infant mortality rate for each of the last 10 years.

The rate of infant mortality per 1,000 live births in England and Wales has fallen from 11.1 in 1981 to 7.9 in 1990. The complete figures for the past 10 years will be published in the Official Report.

Although those figures are welcome, is the Minister aware that we do not compare well with our European colleagues and that our declining infant mortality rate is not as good as many of their rates? Also, there are big differences between social classes and regions in this country in terms of the opportunities for children to survive. Does the Minister consider it fair that, if a child is born in East Anglia, it has a far better chance of survival than if it is born in Yorkshire or in my region, where we recently lost five intensive care cots? Is not it right that all children should have access to the latest technology, irrespective of where they live or the poverty of their parents?

I do not think that it is right for the hon. Lady to knock the national health service in that way. In fact, Britain's figures are rather good. Some in Europe are better than ours, but we are better than some others and very much better than the United States. She will also want to welcome the fact given in answer to the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) that the percentage improvement among the poorest groups—what the sociologists call groups 4 and 5—has been greater than that among the higher groups, so the gap is therefore narrowing. That is very welcome.

I recently referred the subject of access to neo-natal facilities to the Clinical Standards Advisory Group, and we recently set up a confidential inquiry into stillbirths and deaths in infancy. We are making steady progress, of which the country should be proud. We should also be proud of the NHS's achievement in that respect.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the improvements made in Shropshire, especially by the maternity unit of the Royal Shrewsbury hospital, where two thirds of the Conway brood were born? Is he aware that that progress has been made not merely because of the skill of the consultants and of the nursing staff but because of the way they work together as a team? Therefore, will he ensure that the district health authority does not break up that team in order to move it to Telford to try to keep an under-used district general hospital busy?

I believe that steady progress is being made, as my hon. Friend says. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor) for having tabled the question, which otherwise the Opposition might have accused me of having planted.

Following is the information:

Infant mortality rates per 1,000 live births: 1981–1990 England and Wales