DOZENS of babies born in Preston did not make their first birthday, research has shown.
Between 2005 and 2014, 96 babies died before the age of one - 14 of those in the St Matthew’s ward.
The evidence we are getting is the safer sleep message about not sleeping on the front hasn’t got across to the child-bearing population in St Matthew’s
Now a group investigating the figures has found a correlation between infant mortality and high levels of fuel poverty in the area, with families unable to afford to heat their homes.
Experts say the rates of infant mortality have dropped over the years in Preston, but say there are clear inequalities across neighbourhoods, with infant mortality having an “undeniable” correlation with deprivation.
Figures show that, over the period between 2005 and 2014, 14 babies died in St Matthew’s, 12 in the Town Centre ward, and eight in the Ribbleton ward - the three highest numbers.
The task group of Preston Council focused its work on the St Matthew’s area, as it saw the highest number of infant deaths in the city.
Chairman of the task group, Coun Roy Leeming, said councillors had a perception before the investigation started that poor housing would have been a “major issue”, and so far bosses have been able to inspect about 700 homes in the St Matthew’s area.
Coun Leeming said: “We believed, and nationally it shows, that poor housing is a major contributor to infant mortality.”
But following the inspections, he said: “We haven’t found the problems we were anticipating.
“We expected to find private rented property in shocking condition, but what we are finding is quite a decent standard of property, and any issues around cold and damp is more around a fuel poverty issue and people not having the money to switch the boiler on.
“In Preston, there are a lot of quite affluent areas in Preston where everybody regularly switches their energy provider and pay relatively low bills because of that.
“And there are a lot of areas where people need to be saving as much as possible, but they are still paying standard tariffs and hundreds of pounds a year more than they have to, so they can’t afford to pay the rent.
“So we are looking at how the council can support swapping.”
The task and finish group also discovered smoking and sleep habits among issues in the area.
Coun Leeming said: “We never expected that we would find a magic silver bullet or come across something nobody knew, but we’ve found evidence that in the past the safer sleep message was definitely got across to people, and we are wondering if the changing demographic in the area means the message needs reinforcing.”
He said the group wanted to look into the possibility of offering a special box - used in Finland and offered to parents for their babies to sleep safely in, along with a starter kit for the baby.
He said: “It is contained enough so the baby hasn’t got the opportunity to roll and end up in an unsafe position.
“The evidence we are getting is the safer sleep message about not sleeping on the front hasn’t got across to the child-bearing population in St Matthew’s.
“It might have got across some years ago, but it’s been lost.”
Coun Leeming also said the message around smoking had “definitely” been lost in the area.
He said 28 per cent of pregnant women in St Matthew’s were smoking in the first stages of pregnancy, with the number hardly reducing by the time of delivery.
He said the group wanted people to sign up to pledges promising to create smoke-free households, and said: “It’s not enough for people to say I won’t smoke in the baby’s sight - you shouldn’t touch a baby if you’ve been smoking in the last 30 minutes.”
He added: “If we could make it compulsory at the point of sale of pregnancy testing kits that they issued anti-smoking material, that gets the message through a bit earlier.”