NHS Puzzled by City's Worstin - UK Infant Mortality Rates; POLITICS
Byline: By Jonathan Walker Political Editor
The NHS has admitted it does not know why Birmingham has the worst infant mortality figures in the country.
A House of Commons inquiry warned that "unexplained variations" between the death rate in different parts of Britain may be due to poverty and other social factors - or to poor medical care.
But senior health managers did not know the answer, because of "limited data" about patients, the inquiry warned.
The Midlands South neonatal network, which includes hospitals in Birmingham, Solihull, Herefordshire and Worcestershire, has the highest rate of infant mortality in the country - with 4.8 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2005.
Many of the children affected were born prematurely or suffered from an illness or defect which meant they required neonatal care.
The Midlands North neonatal network, which covers Shropshire, Staffordshire, Wolverhampton and the Black Country, had the second worst record in the country, with 4.3 deaths per 1,000 live births.
By contrast, The Surrey and Sussex neonatal network has a death rate of 1.8 per 1,000 live births, the lowest in the country.
During the inquiry, it emerged that the NHS did not know whether this variation reflected the quality of medical care or other factors.
Sir Bruce Keogh, Medical Director of the NHS, told MPs that the data "takes no account of the nature of the babies that appear at the front door of the neonatal intensive care unit."
He added: "There is a variety of factors that influence how those babies are likely to do. One would be the socio-economic group ... others would be things like the size, weight and gestation period of the baby and so on."
He admitted that the NHS did not know if any of the neonatal networks were offering poor medical care.
David Nicholson, the NHS chief executive, told the inquiry: "Progress here has been fraught by a lack of national data with which we can work."
They were giving evidence to an investigation by the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts, which includes Shropshire MP Philip Dunne (Con Ludlow). …