AVOIDABLE deaths among children and teenagers are now higher in Scotland than anywhere else in the UK.

Scotland has overtaken Northern Ireland and recorded nearly twice the rate of avoidable deaths among infants, children and young people aged 19 and under compared to England and Wales.

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These can include children who were murdered or killed as a result of intentional injuries, such as being beaten by a parent, as well as accidental causes such as being knocked down on the road.

Infections, respiratory diseases such as asthma or pneumonia, and birth defects linked to exposure to cigarette toxins, alcohol or other harmful substances in the womb are also among the leading causes.

The latest figures, covering 2017, were published by the Office for National Statistics.

Around a third of all deaths among children and young people across the UK in 2017 were considered to have been avoidable - equivalent to 1,653 fatalities.

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This has shown little improvement since the current records began in 2014.

Professor Russell Viner, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), said it painted a "worrying picture".

He said: "Inside the womb, there are a number of factors that increase a child’s risk of death and these include exposure to smoke, alcohol and other harmful substances, a mother’s weight and mental health status.

"Outside the womb, these all still have an impact but exposure to areas high in road traffic also heighten this risk."

In Scotland, there were 218 avoidable deaths in the 0-19 age group in 2017 - 135 male, and 83 female.

That translates to an avoidable mortality rate of 19 per 100,000 population compared to 9.6 in England or 10.3 in Wales, and 18.1 in Northern Ireland.

Although the avoidable death rate in childhood and adolescence in Scotland has fallen from a 2016 peak of 20.4, 2017 marked the first time since current records began that the Scottish rate has exceeded that of Northern Ireland.

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In England, a National Child Mortality Database will go live from April this year to collect data on all children who die before their 18th birthday in order to learn lessons and prevent deaths in future.

Prof Viner said it was disappointing that Scotland has not yet established its own database, which was first recommended by RCPCH four years ago.

He said: "With the highest avoidable mortality rates in the UK, the Scottish Government in particular, has an important job to do.

"The Scottish Government is certainly moving in the right direction following the announcement of a series of commitments aimed at tackling child poverty and obesity.

"However, despite recommending a Scotland-wide child death review process to be implemented over four years ago, this is yet to actually be established.

"The Scottish Government must move forward with this promise to help reverse this worrying trend.”

Scotland also continued to record the highest overall rate of avoidable deaths in the UK, partly due to higher levels of drug overdoses and suicide, as well as cancers, cardiovascular disease and injuries sustained accidentally or in assaults. 

Scotland's rate of avoidable deaths among males was 38% higher than England, and 39% higher for females than in England. 

In Scotland, 20 in every 100,000 people died due to drug abuse in 2017, compared to 12 per 100,000 in England. 

Steve Moffatt, Public Policy Manager at drug abuse charity, Addaction, said: “That means in 2017 one in 5,000 people in Scotland died due to an avoidable death from drug use.
“These figures are another in a long list of reminders that health and social care services need to be properly funded and targeted to areas with the highest level of need.

"These deaths aren’t just numbers. They are real people; someone’s mum or dad, sister, brother or child.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said:  “Over the long term, life expectancy in Scotland has increased.

"We are focused on addressing the underlying causes driving health inequalities, which has income inequality at its heart, through a package of measures helping people live longer healthier lives.

“These include investing in affordable housing, providing free school meals and continuing commitments like free prescriptions and free personal care. This is the right approach to take, and we are investing over £125 million this year to mitigate against the worst impacts of UK Government welfare cuts and support those on low incomes.

“Our drug and alcohol treatment strategy will also help, challenging service providers to adapt their approaches to meet the wide ranging health and social needs of those at risk from  substance use.”