HEALTH experts have set ambitious targets to reduce rates of still births and infant mortality in the next three years.

The government-backed Early Years Collaborative (EYC) wants a 15% fall in the rate of babies stillborn and children who die before their first birthday by the end of 2015.

The new drive to tackle health inequality in early childhood was announced as the EYC held its first major conference yesterday.

Loading article content

Two other targets were established – to get 85% of children aged between 27 and 30 months hitting all expected development milestones by the end of 2016; and 90% of primary school starters meeting their development targets by the end of 2017.

Attributes judged in the milestone tests include reading ability, motor skills, communication skills and social and emotional behaviour.

Chief Medical Officer Sir Harry Burns said: "The evidence is incontrovertible – improving health equality and life expectancy rests on tackling the problems in early years. Problems in early years lead to poor educational attainment, increased offending, poor health. I am clear this process cannot be top down – we must all work with people to gather insight, offer opportunities and give people control.

"This is an exciting and pioneering process that I am pleased to be involved in and am confident we can deliver change."

Some 750 health experts gathered in Glasgow yesterday to debate what changes were needed locally to reach the new goals.

For the targeted 15% fall to be met, stillbirth rates must drop from 4.9 per 1000 births to 4.3, while infant mortality has to fall from 3.7 per 1000 births to 3.1.

Scotland's current infant mortality rate is already the lowest on record and below the rest of the UK, but higher than Scandinavian countries.

Earlier this week The Herald revealed that long-term targets to cut infant mortality, stillbirths and low birth weight babies were due to be announced.