The health of children in England is being harmed by deepening public sector cuts and 'disjointed' Government policies, new research has found.
A year on from its State of Child Health report, The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) said the Government in England has not made the same strides as those in Wales and Scotland and has failed to improve child health in a number of 'fundamental areas', including banning junk food advertising.
Professor Neena Modi, president of the RCPCH, said: “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. 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 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.”
The RCPCH tracked the progress made by governments in England, Wales and Scotland against the different recommendations it set the countries last year.
In its follow-up report, the RCPCH said central Government had made less progress on its recommendations compared with Wales and Scotland, but found that England had made progress in some areas - including the launch of a digital child health strategy and the implementation of sugar tax.
In Wales, The Public Health (Wales) Act has been enacted which includes extending bans on smoking in public places to schools, playgrounds and NHS grounds. A new state-of-the-art facility in Cardiff has also opened to expand capacity for child health research.
Similarly, Scotland has seen the passing of the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act with defined poverty reduction targets, an announcement to expand the number of health visitors by an additional 500 by the end of 2018 through the full roll-out of the Family Nurse Partnership programme, and a commitment to ensure specialist breastfeeding advice and support is delivered to women.
Professor Russell Viner, RCPCH officer for health promotion, said: “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.”
The RCPCH is calling for each national government to commit to a ‘child health in all policies’ approach, meaning that whenever legislation is passed, the impact on child health must be considered. The RCPCH also wants to see a cross-party committee established to develop a child health strategy.
Professor Modi added: “We need parity of esteem between acute and preventive healthcare. It is no good only throwing money at treating established problems; there must be far better investment in prevention, which will reap immeasurable long-term benefits. This means much bolder public health policies and a reversal of the current destructive cuts to preventive services.”