Review hopes to save lives of Scottish children

Every death of a child in Scotland is to be reviewed in efforts to reduce the number of fatalities, the Scottish Government has announced.

Health secretary Alex Neil. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Health secretary Alex Neil. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

An average 450 children in Scotland die each year, with mortality rates higher than in many other European countries.

To identify factors which could reduce preventable deaths in the under-18s, ministers have announced they will introduce a national “child death review system” to look into every case.

Sign up to our public interest bulletins - get the latest news on the Coronavirus

Last month, The Scotsman revealed a trial of special child death reviews in Tayside could be rolled out nationally.

While reviews into child deaths are carried out in certain circumstances, there is currently no process for reviewing every death across Scotland.

The collection of data and the sharing of any lessons learned which could help prevent other deaths is also limited, the Scottish Government said.

It said it had now accepted the recommendations in a report from the child death review working group to create a national review system.

The new system will set out to identify factors which could reduce preventable deaths, due to ill-health or accidents. In criminal or unexplained circumstances, multi-agency reviews already occur and will continue under the new recommendations.

Health secretary Alex Neil said: “The death of a child is always a tragedy and it’s right that the reasons for that death are explored thoroughly to enable us to put in place measures that can help prevent future tragedies.

“Setting up this standardised review system will help us to identify what we can do to further reduce the rates of child mortality in Scotland and work more closely with families to support them.

“We’re keen to ensure that bereaved families are at the centre of the review process and that they are given all the information they need in a timely and sensitive manner.

“Through involving families in each review, they will have the opportunity to feed in their views and will, hopefully, feel reassured that all is being done to help prevent the likelihood of similar deaths happening again.”

Most of the deaths among under-18s in Scotland happen in children under the age of one – usually related to premature birth and birth defects. The next highest rate of deaths is among teenagers aged 15 to 18, in which age group deaths are largely related to trauma including road traffic accidents and suicide.

A steering group will be set up to develop the Scottish review system, which will be informed by the pilot programme in Tayside.

Researchers at Dundee University are trialling a process and have already carried out a number of reviews of deaths in the Tayside region.

Lead researcher Alyson Leslie last month told The Scotsman that the reviews could provide “invaluable” information for those looking at the causes of child deaths, allowing recommendations to be made for reducing fatalities in situations such as young children drowning in baths.