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Judith Ellis: The state of children’s health in the UK is unacceptable

British children in deprived areas have some of the worst health outcomes in the developed world, according to a new Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health report. The college’s chief executive, nurse Judith Ellis, says cuts to health visiting and school nursing services must end.
Deprived children_tile_iStock.jpg

British children in deprived areas have some of the worst health outcomes in the developed world, according to a new Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health report. The colleges chief executive, nurse Judith Ellis, says cuts to health visiting and school nursing services must end

The State of Child Health report warns that a lack of a national strategic focus on children and the persistent gap between rich and poor in the UK are damaging the health of the nations infants, children and young people.

The report presents data on 25 measures of the health for children that raise overarching concerns, such as the UK ranking 15 out of 19 for child

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British children in deprived areas have some of the worst health outcomes in the developed world, according to a new Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health report. The college’s chief executive, nurse Judith Ellis, says cuts to health visiting and school nursing services must end


Poor health in infancy and childhood means poor adult health. Picture: iStock

The State of Child Health report warns that a lack of a national strategic focus on children and the persistent gap between rich and poor in the UK are damaging the health of the nation’s infants, children and young people. 

The report presents data on 25 measures of the health for children that raise overarching concerns, such as the UK ranking 15 out of 19 for child deaths in Western Europe. 

Even more worryingly, it shows the widening inequalities in health across the UK. Children who live in deprived areas are more likely to be overweight or obese, suffer from asthma, have poorly managed diabetes, experience mental health problems and to die early. Children in wealthy areas have health outcomes that match the best in the world, whereas some of the outcomes among our deprived groups are some of the worst in the developed world.

Health of a nation 

We know that poor health in infancy and childhood means poor adult health, and this report raises concerns about the future health of our nation, supporting the economic case for intervening early to reduce demands on health service resources.

The government should urgently prioritise a strategy to improve child health and reduce child poverty to minimise the impact of deprivation on health outcomes. Health professionals know that early intervention prevents health problems in later life. The report acknowledges this with a call to stop the financial erosion of school nursing and health visiting services.

School nurses face the daily challenges of supporting young people who are pregnant, smoke, drink alcohol and have mental health issues, including being affected by bullying. There should be statutory and comprehensive personal, social and health education programmes, and sex and relationship education across all primary and secondary schools. Indeed, school nursing services should be expanded to provide knowledgeable support, not face continuous cuts. 

The report also stresses the impact of maternal health and well-being on child health outcomes, and highlights the vital role midwives play in supporting mothers to be a healthy weight, breastfeed and stop smoking.

Wake-up call 

Every professional interacting with children, young people and families can take effective actions to improve public health and children and young people’s health outcomes. Nurses, health visitors and midwives can deal confidently with mental health problems, and advise and act as role models to support smoking cessation and healthy diets.

The current state of child health is unacceptable. The challenge will be convincing all health service professionals, managers and policy-makers that the need to improve child health must not be ignored. Cuts to essential health visiting and school nursing services should cease. Sustainability and Transformation Plans, the 44 blueprints for health and social care in England, must include how to promote and improve the health and well-being of children and young people, and overall population health. 

Short-term austerity measures that undermine services aimed at improving child health will have a long-term impact on the health of our nation and increase demands on a future health service. The State of Child Health is a wake-up call.


About the author

 

 

 

Judith Ellis, MBE, is chief executive of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health

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