Child health

Labour’s child health plan could be ‘critical’ to building better future, says NHS

The Labour Party has launched a new action plan to turn its ambition of nurturing the “healthiest generation of children ever” into reality.

The plan includes seven key focuses including mental health, obesity, dentistry and waiting lists.

In paediatrics, planned services will be helped along by taking better advantage of evenings and weekends – a move that will boost appointments by two million a year.

To affect change in the child mental health sector, Labour will recruit thousands more staff and introduce specialist support in every school. An open access hub will be present in every community too.

NHS England’s 2023 report into the mental health of children and young people revealed that more than one in five (20.3%) of eight to 16-year-olds had a probable mental disorder.

Labour are also committing to delivering an additional 700,000 dentist appointments per year, as well as encouraging dentists to work in areas with the most need.

A “targeted national supervised toothbrushing programme” is also proposed for those aged three to five.

The Nuffield Trust, an independent health think tank, recently warned that universal NHS dentistry could be “gone for good” without radical reform.

Keir Starmer comment

Labour plans to tackle childhood obesity with a 9pm TV advertising curfew for junk food and a complete ban of online junk food adverts which target children. This will be backed by a “balanced and broad” national curriculum to boost physical activity across all schools.

Moreover, children will:

  • have access to a healthy morning meal through new breakfast clubs in all primary schools;
  • be protected from the effects of tobacco with relevant bans on sales and advertising, as well as all hospital trusts integrating ‘opt-out’ smoking cessation services into routine care;
  • get routine immunisations from health visitors.

According to Labour, these measures will be funded by abolishing the non-dom tax status, tax loopholes for private equity managers, and tax breaks for private schools.

Overall, the Labour Party says it will oversee a shift into more community-centred care; a digital NHS, from an analogue one; and a prevention-first health system.

Responding to the new plan, NHS Providers’ director of policy and strategy, Miriam Deakin, said: "This plan could be a critical step towards ensuring children in England are as happy and healthy as possible.”

Deakin urges that action is needed to address issues in housing, education and public health funding however, as these factors also impact a child’s health.

"Children and young people are a third of the population but receive disproportionately less healthcare investment despite many long-term conditions developing during this period,” continued Deakin.

"We therefore urge a whole-government approach that tackles the root causes of health inequalities and addresses the broader determinants of health.”

The Royal College of Nursing’s general secretary and chief executive, Pat Cullen, commented: “Nursing staff lead public health services and will support a focus on prevention and detection for the youngest.

“They can support the development of this approach with expertise and evidence on the clear benefits to health outcomes, society and communities when you invest in children and parents to break the cycle of disadvantage.”

Image credit: iStock

NHE March/April 2024

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