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UK in danger of failing a generation of children

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) is calling on the government to ‘prioritise preventative health services’.

This comes after its report, State of Child Health 2020, revealed that the UK is lagging behind other countries on measures including infant mortality.

The report shows that for many measures of children’s health and wellbeing, progress has stalled, or is going backwards, something rarely seen in high-income countries.

Researchers also found that, across most indicators, health outcomes are worse for children who live in deprived areas.

The UK is fifth from the bottom among 27 European countries for infant mortality, the globally-recognised sign of how well a country is looking after the health of its citizens, which stalled in England between 2013 and 2018 at 3.9 per 1,000 live births, with a slight rise in 2017 to 4.0.

While in England and Wales infant mortality is more than twice as high in the most deprived areas compared with the least deprived areas.

The report also found that inequalities in some outcomes have widened since the last State of Child Health report in 2017, with progress being seriously affected by deep cuts to local authority budgets, used to finance public health initiatives and community services.

Community paediatrician and co-author Dr Rakhee Shah, said: ‘Investment in preventative health services must now be prioritised by the new UK government.

‘England has seen a huge decline in spending on local services and I see the results of that every day of my working life especially for my most disadvantaged patients.

‘The cuts to services also have an impact on our NHS – people have fewer places to go to get advice, support, and stay well.’

The authors highlight that, even where there have been notable improvements in children’s health, the UK is often lagging far behind other countries.

For example, although there has been a fall in the number of emergency asthma admission rates across all four nations, the UK still has one of the highest mortality rates in Europe for children and young people with asthma.

Dr Ronny Cheung, clinical lead for RCPCH and co-author of the report, said: ‘Two weeks ago, the Marmot Review presented a stark picture about life expectancy in England. Now, our own report shows troubling signs for children and young people across the UK.

‘The harsh reality is that, in terms of health and wellbeing, children born in the UK are often worse off than those born in other comparably wealthy countries. This is especially true if the child is from a less well-off background.

‘Infant mortality is a globally-recognised sign of how well a country is looking after the health of its citizens. Throughout the world, the number of babies dying in their first year has been steadily falling for decades, as incomes rise and mothers and children receive better healthcare.

‘Yet UK infant mortality rates have stalled, and in England they actually got worse between 2016 and 2017. For a high-income nation such as ours that should be a major wake up call.’

The authors have made a number of policy recommendations for England, these include the introduction of a cross-departmental National Child Health and Wellbeing Strategy to address and monitor child poverty and health inequalities.

As well as the restoration of £1bn of real-terms cuts to the public health grant for local authorities and the assurance that future investment in public health provision will increase at the same rate as NHS funding and be allocated based on population health needs.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said the NHS Long Term Plan provides a clear focus on improving the health of children and young people across mental health, learning disabilities and cancer.

‘We want every child to have the best start in life, regardless of their background, and tackling health inequalities is a priority for the Government.

‘Early intervention is key and we are taking urgent steps to improve child health.

‘We have launched the most ambitious plan in the world to cut childhood obesity by half by 2030, we are transforming children’s mental health to treat to give 70,000 more children access to services by next year and we are improving maternity services.’

Photo Credit – Pixabay

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