19% of child deaths in England are unexpected and unexplained, new study suggests

Almost one in five child deaths in England are sudden, unexpected and have no immediate apparent cause, a new study suggests.

Researchers also found that 48% of deaths of infants under a year old still had no clear cause even after full investigations.

The study by the National Child Mortality Database said growing up in poverty was associated with a higher risk.

Some 42% of unexplained deaths of infants happened in deprived neighbourhoods, as opposed to 8% in the wealthiest.

The risk was also strongly associated with factors such as low birth weight, prematurity, multiple births, larger families, admission to a neonatal unit, maternal smoking during pregnancy, young maternal age, parental smoking and parental drug misuse, researchers said.

Of infants who died in their sleep, 48% were found to be sleeping in hazardous circumstances - for example with an adult on a sofa or chair.

Professor Peter Fleming, a lead author of the study and professor of infant health at the University of Bristol, said: "It shows us more clearly than ever the need to ensure that infants sleep safely, that unexplained deaths in older children are better understood, and that support is given to make sure all families - especially the poorest - can create a safe environment for their children."

The report examined the deaths of all children in England under the age of 18 between April 2019 and March 2021.

It found a history of convulsion in 27% of unexplained deaths of children over the age of one.

Baroness Kennedy KC, who was part of the team designing this and other associated studies, said: "What this tells us is that research in this area is now a priority.

"It is crucial that we identify those factors which contribute to unexpected death in children over one year old."