Child Mortality Rates and Politics

JOHN RUDDY looks at child mortality rates in Scotland in the wake of recent comments from Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon 

When your wife is expecting your first child, you tend to take a greater than normal interest in things such as infant mortality. So when the Deputy First Minister stands up and claims that children are more likely to die in a part of Scotland – and blames the Labour council for it, I decided to look into it.

Although Glasgow Labour had issued a press release, my first stop, of course was the Scottish Government’s own website.  There I found Ms Sturgeon had released a statement only a few weeks ago on the same subject. It also included a helpful link to the latest Government statistics, contained within the Scottish Perinatal and Infant Mortality and Morbidity Report 2010. Here I thought, I would be able to see how safe our baby will be.

Therefore it was strange to see that the Health Minister was saying something completely different. “…the rates of stillbirths, neonatal deaths, perinatal deaths and infant deaths were the lowest ever recorded in Scotland” she was quoted as saying. “The rate of post-natal deaths equalled the lowest ever recorded” she continued. What no mention of the dangers of voting Labour?

So what is the Government doing about these unnecessary deaths? Well, Nicola said she was taking action “The report has a number of important recommendations that we expect NHS Boards, with assistance from Healthcare Improvement Scotland, to take cognisance of – and take appropriate action.” That’s great – but aren’t NHS boards the responsibility of the Scottish Government, and not local authorities? Perhaps the stats will show how dangerous it is to give birth in Glasgow.

While one of the first things the statisticians talk about is the variations between health boards, it is not to point them out, but rather to state that they are more likely to be related to random variation. Random variation? Not voting Labour then? Ahh, but it goes onto to say that one NHS board are is being investigated for reasons why there has been an increased stillbirth rate! This surely must be what she was talking about! The identity of this board should become clear with some more digging.

One thing, however is very clear – the fact that the rates of infant mortality, from all causes, has dropped significantly over the last 30 years. Stillbirths dropped most rapidly in the last 70s and early 80s, while neonatal and post-neonatal deaths have continued to drop, albeit more gradually since then. In fact it is clear that since the mid-70s, there has been such a reduction that such deaths are now very rare – overall in Scotland the rate is 8.6 per 1000 live births compared to over 31 in 1974.

The report makes clear that factors such as the mothers BMI, smoking status and social deprivation are drivers for infant mortality, the link is not direct. In comparing NHS boards, the report makes clear that since there are a statistically small number of stillbirths and neonatal deaths, annual fluctuations are heavily influenced by chance, so they have aggregated several years, and used a funnel plot showing standard deviation from the mean. This allows for small populations to be compared, and allow ready recognition of outliers. At last we can see the evidence that voting Labour will kill your baby!

Except, it doesn’t. That one health board that’s being investigated? As the report states quite clearly, the graph “shows NHS Fife to be the only board with a rate more than 3 standard deviations above the mean for stillbirths.”

While I am pleased that Tayside seems to almost exactly average, I wonder what these figures say about the SNP led administration in Fife? Perhaps it is not fit for purpose? Or perhaps this is playing politics with peoples deepest fears and emotions. Isnt this really blaming someone for things they don’t have control over (after all these are health boards we are comparing, not local authorities). Maybe this is showing that Holyrood can do scaremongering much better than anyone else.

The question I would like to ask Ms Sturgeon is how many parents have you worried with your baseless lies, told simply to win an election? How many people now fear for the health of their unborn children, and are wrongly blaming their local councillors when they come knocking on the door. Why haven’t you taken responsibility for tackling this issue, as your own report of 31st January said. And how can you sleep at night after having done all that?

Originally from Devon, John Ruddy now lives in Angus. He was an agent for Scottish Labour at the Holyrood election and is a Unison shop steward. Follow John on Twitter at @jruddy99

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32 thoughts on “Child Mortality Rates and Politics

  1. Are you able to point me to this statement you say Nicola Sturgeon made?

  2. I’m sure Nicola willl sleep very soundly if her use (misuse?) of “statistics” brings “independence” closer.

    After all, if we have “independence” stillbirths will be magically abolished, as will chance fluctuations, sample size uncertainty and standard variations from the mean.

    et voila!

    The end justifies the mean(s), as it were….

  3. If Sturgeon made this statement regarding Glasgow’s poor record on child mortality,blaming the Labour controlled Council,then it’s a disgrace.I used to hold her in the highest regard as a compitent health minister,but to stoop so low as to make such a statement is simply playing dirty politics.Could some one direct me to where I can read this recent statement from her,so I can see it in full?

    1. It is missing one fairly important piece of evidence: the actual quotes from Nicola Sturgeon to which Mr. Ruddy objects.

    2. I would be careful with this one, Duncan, she just might respond via her lawyers.

    3. Your idea of “evidence” is based on another labour supporter’s hearsay.
      Your constant repetition of this lie doesn’t make it true and only affects people who don’t (or can’t) check the actual statement by N. Sturgeon and see how you have twisted her words.

      I assume you will mod this out, as it can be followed up by any intelligent reader to prove that both John and Duncan are spreading lies.

  4. I would direct any reader of this article to read a report in daily record on 1st february by john ferguson and make up their own mind if nicola sturgeon said voting labour kills babies – mr ruddy you are being mendacious.

  5. The opening sentence refers to child mortality rates. The rest of the article refers to deaths of unborns, newborns and infants. Surely these are not the same thing and so apples are being compared with oranges. That’s not what I would consider “evidence-based argument”.

    I would also like a link to the original statement by Ms. Sturgeon, just so I can verify that no-one is being economical with the actualité.

  6. John,are you sure you’re not attributing comments made by Alison Hunter to Sturgeon? Can’t find any media outlet reporting the comments coming from Sturgeon!

    1. Allison Hunter made no such comments.

      I was in the hall.

      The resolution was pish – no doubt about it, which is why the Group Leader did not make any such remarks.

  7. Disgraceful – Salmond should sack her.
    Typical of the negative, dishonest attacks so typical of the SNP who will say and do anything to separate Scotland from the UK.

  8. The basic premise of your article is wrong.

    There was a resolution which referred to infant mortality rates, it was indeed rubbish and whoever wrote it was a complete numpty.

    But Nicola Sturgeon did not say anything about infant mortality rates. Nor, in fact, did the SNP Group Leader who moved the resolution.

    So to sum up – it was a stupid resolution written by numpty who had done no research, fair comment.

    But the rest of your article, not so much.

  9. John,my previous comment has failed to appear.can I repeat? Are you sure you’re not mistaken in attributing Alison Hunter’s comments to Sturgeon? Hunter doesn’t appear to be the brightest of Nats,and Sturgeon should have shot her down immedietly,but I’m not sure Sturgeon actually made these comments.

    1. Lol. Who do you think managed Nicola’s 2007 election campaign? When she made the breakthrough in Govan? Also coincidentally she was Jim Sillars’ election agent too!

  10. To be fair, it wasn’t the deputy FM who said that, it was a motion put forward at the SNP conference on the Saturday. Doesn’t make it any less distasteful.

  11. So Gordon Matheson, leader of Glasgow City Council acknowledges that Sturgeon made no such claim, John. So how about you do the same and rewrite this otherwise decently researched article?

  12. Did Miss Sturgeon conflate the infant mortality issue with the well-known Glasgow factor which medical experts talk about ? it’s become an international indicator of poverty, deprivation and a range of poor health factors which lead
    to premature death and seems to be uniquely associated with Glasgow even beyond other cities of similar multiple deprivation indices. Is there a political aspect to this ? That’s the really interesting question I’d like an answer to before I vote in May’s council election.

  13. To round everything up – it was a piss poor resolution. Whoever wrote it was an idiot. The Council Group should never have allowed it to be submitted in their name, I can only assume they did not actually read it. SOAC – that is the Standing Orders and Agenda Committee who decide what resolutions are taken at Conference -MUST have read it however so they too are idiots and I will certainly not vote to re-elect any of them at next Conference.

    However neither Nicola Sturgeon or Allison Hunter made any comments or any remarks about infant mortality at Conference. So while the basis of the article is correct – that the actual content of the resolution was rubbish and offensive rubbish at that – John is over-reaching himself trying to associate Nicola Sturgeon with it.

    That’s it really.

  14. “Here I thought, I would be able to see how safe our baby will be.”

    May I suggest Mr Ruddy that you avoid unduly causing concern for your good lady over the forthcoming happy event by avoiding research into such matters.

    It would be akin to reading through a medical textbook and worrying yourself sick over what you may or may not be suffering from.

    From the previous contributions however, it would appear that actually attributing these alleged comments to Sturgeon is proving difficult. And not having witnessed the aforementioned diatribe, it is difficult to know exactly what was said.

    Perhaps in future, more tangible evidence should be provided to make, what I’m sure was, a very pertinent point.

  15. I’m beginning to get quite depressed at the level of debate from both sides in scottish politics at the moment. I think this article and the initial comments is, on reflection, another example of the tit for tat stuff that means nothing to the general populace.

    I’ve started to use twitter as well and I can see that it poisons people in many ways. The partisanship of Labour and others is becoming a real source of disappointment to me, as a young person. I started looking on various sites recently as someone very much excited about how politicians and political parties can be a force for good in society. In the last while all i’ve seen is political point scoring on the smallest minutae of detail. He said she said utter garbage. It seems to me that politics in this age is based on people hanging on every word looking for the smallest weakness rather than looking at the general picture.

    As i wrote, before it was strangely removed, I’ve met many people in glasgow that live in damp rotten council flats. I think it is a crying shame that good people live in such conditions in an era of Labour rule. This is what needs discussed. Not he said she said mince.

    Politics seems more about media PR than practical policy. Full and frank discussion is few and far between because people jump on the smallest thing. I’m sick of it.

    Some on here seem to be more interested in the thrill of getting one over their opponent than the thankless task of bettering people’s lives. No wonder people are bored of politics. I’m interested and even I’m beginning to wonder.

    People think this is a brilliant article. It’s just part of the problem. Ask any normal punter and they would laugh at this irrelavance.

  16. It really doesn’t matter who said what, the birth of our youngsters is the best reason for living. Anyone who has influence on making this more successful has to be seen to have this as a top priority and to be seen as being successful. Those who have room for improvement need to be held to account and remedies put in place. It really does no one any favours to make this a political football. After all, we are really in this one together!

  17. To be fair John, you need to show us this statement or a link to it, otherwise this could be regarded as another ‘blanket beating Ballie moment’.

  18. Has Mr Ruddy left the house? If John has other things on his mind right now, then that is fair enough, and completely understandable.

    However, there is a clear need to back up a claim like this with some evidence.

  19. Since your comment in the article about N. Sturgeon has proved to be false,
    when can we expect a retraction and apology ?

    1. Excuse me “Rhymer” do you mean John is fibbing !!! or simply being economical with the truth.
      Perhaps John could provide link to the statement in question ???????

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