In Brief

Baby boxes: should the NHS offer kits across the UK?

More than 50,000 issued to new parents in Scotland over past year but not everyone supports scheme

An average of 1,000 baby boxes have been delivered each week in the first year of Scotland’s scheme to supply new parents with free basic childcare equipment.

The Scottish government says it has issued 52,065 boxes since the launch of the programme last August, representing an 85% uptake.

The scheme is based on a government initiative in Finland, where expectant mothers have been given boxes by the state since the 1930s. Each kit contains items including clothing, a comforter toy, a play mat, books, a towel and a thermometer.

The box itself can also be used as a sleeping space for small babies.

The estimated cost to the Scottish government is around £8m for 2017-18, rising to £8.8m per year, the BBC reports.

Initial feedback from parents has been positive, the broadcaster adds, and some hospital trusts in England and Wales have started similar programmes on a trial basis.

Launching the Scottish scheme last year, chief medical officer Dr Catherine Calderwood said that the baby boxes would also offer healthcare professionals a “unique opportunity to introduce expectant parents to a wide range of health promotion information”.

Gill Walton, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), added that programme “signals that every baby is important and welcomed”, providing “a more equal start to life”.

The RCM has endorsed using the box as a bed for newborns, to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (Sids), also known as cot death. 

The Guardian reports that infant death statistics indicate that parents sharing beds with their babies correlates with a higher risk of Sids - especially if the parent has been smoking or drinking - although a causal link has not been established.

However, infant health charity The Lullaby Trust warns that parents should be aware that the baby boxes do not conform to British safety standards and have not been shown to cut the risk of cot death.

“There is still no evidence directly linking the use of a baby box with a reduction in infant mortality or Sids,” said Francine Bates, the charity’s chief executive.

“Given current pressures on public health budgets, we question whether the call to introduce the scheme across the country is the best use of resources to reduce infant deaths.”

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