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State of Child Health England – One Year On

The State of Child Health 2017, uncovered alarming inequalities in the health and wellbeing of children across the UK and a clear disparity with the rest of Western Europe. One year on, our scorecard reveals that although progress has been made in some areas, in general, the picture for infants, children and young people remains largely unchanged across England.

Government has taken some steps in the right direction. The successful passage of the soft drinks industry levy through Parliament was a landmark moment in the ongoing battle against child obesity. Similarly, the announcement of the introduction of mandatory sex and relationship education for all schools in England is welcome, as are commitments to prioritising children and young people’s mental health. In further progress, information on child deaths is to be held in a new National Child Mortality Database with the intention of learning from analyses and disseminating guidance.

However, the latest figures show that child poverty in the UK is at its highest level since 2010, 100 out of every 1,000 young people under 19 are likely to have a diagnosable mental health disorder, and 1 in 3 11-year-olds are overweight or obese. Health and wellbeing in later life has much of its origins in infancy, childhood and adolescence, hence urgent action to reverse these trends is needed not only to protect the young of today, but also to safeguard the health of the adult population of the future.

Children deserve better. It is they who are disadvantaged most by inefficient health services, cuts to public health and the rising tide of poverty. Vision and leadership are needed at the highest levels of Government to reverse current trends. Poverty must be tackled and damaging constraints upon universal health services addressed, to reduce the gap in health indices between children living in the most disadvantaged areas and their more affluent peers. The voices of children and young people must be heard across Government, the NHS, related non-governmental agencies, professional bodies, and health and educational settings. Government must pay heed to young people’s frequent calls by committing to the introduction of comprehensive statutory personal, social and health education for all schools in England, with a consultation on the curriculum and a clear timetable for implementation.

Improving child health makes moral, scientific, and economic sense and would be the best of investments for the nation, with the greatest long-term return. Without decisive policy action and adequate resourcing of child health services, the current worrying situation will worsen, endangering the lives of future generations. This is why we are calling on Government, NHS England, Public Health England and all relevant stakeholders to read our report and reflect carefully upon our recommendations. We ask that short-term perspectives are put aside, and a commitment made to tackle child health and wellbeing now, rather than delaying further knowing that would mean looking back with regret one day and asking ‘why did we not act?’