Health Policy

24.01.18

Child health not ‘given the political attention it deserves’

The government in England is not hitting key targets on child health, says the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH).

Following its latest report into paediatric health, the RCPCH says some progress has been made in areas set out a year ago, but added that overall funding cuts were disproportionately affecting children’s services.

While the Scottish and Welsh Governments were credited for their efforts overall, health services in England were criticised for not increasing investment in child health research and making no progress on an overarching child health strategy.

Professor Neena Modi, president of the RCPCH, emphasised the effect that can be created by focusing on children’s health, specifically as a preventative measure for other problems that can develop later in life.

“The science exists for all to see, invest in the health of children and make a huge difference to their health in later life and hence to their economic productivity,” Modi said.

“For example, four-fifths of obese children will remain obese as adults and this will result in them losing between 10-20 years of healthy life.

“That’s a very frightening statistic and something that the government must get to grips with. It’s no wonder the NHS is burgeoning under the weight of ill health. This is time for a long vision for the sake of the nation’s wellbeing and prosperity, yet the focus remains short-term and ineffective.”

There was credit given to English health leaders for the launch of the Digital Child Health Strategy, the beginning of the Tobacco Control Plan, and the implementation of some key specialist service reviews.

However, the failure to put in place a junk food advertising ban, and the lack of a system to measure UK breastfeeding prevalence brought further criticism on the government.

Professor Russell Viner, RCPCH officer for health promotion, commented: “Child health isn’t being given the political attention it deserves in Westminster, which is disappointing given the real commitments from the Scottish and Welsh Governments.

“While policies such as the soft drinks industry levy and new tobacco control plan are to be applauded, the approach is piecemeal. Getting it right in childhood means setting up future generation for a lifetime of better health. Investing in children is an investment in the entire population.”

In addition to the health sector, the issue has also hit councils because a lot of early-life services are run by local authorities.

The Local Government Association’s (LGA) community wellbeing board chair Cllr Izzi Seccombe, used the opportunity to call for greater funding to care in order to stop vital services being put under pressure.

“The LGA has long called for fundamental reforms to tackle childhood obesity, such as for councils to be given a say in how and where the soft drinks levy is spent, better labelling on food and drink products, and for councils to be given powers to ban junk food advertising near schools,” she explained.

“Public health services play a vital role in improving the health of children, young people and adults, reducing the need for treatment later down the line and easing the pressure on the NHS.

“Unless this is properly funded, it will put services at risk which are vital in supporting the health and development of babies, children and families.”

Top Image: Sasiistock

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