The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) is calling for a properly funded, long-term plan to transform the life chances of young people, after finding that England is in danger of falling further behind its peers in Europe on child health.
Its report, “Child health in 2030 in England: comparison with other wealthy countries,” uses long-term historical data to project outcomes for children and young people’s health in the future.
It forecasts that while England is in “middle of the pack” for some child health outcomes, on the majority the country is likely to fall further behind other wealthy countries over the next decade.
Infant mortality in England and Wales has already risen twice - in 2015 and again in 2016 - reversing the 100-year decline in one of the key indicators of population health.
The report warns that even if infant mortality begins to decline again at its previous rate, infant death rates could be 80% higher than the average across the EU15+ in 2030, and that if mortality continues the current ‘stall’, it will be 140% higher.
It also predicts that by 2030 A&E attendances among children and young people are likely to increase by 50%, that nearly one-third of England’s most deprived boys will be obese, and that reported mental health problems may increase by 60% if current trends continue.
“This report clearly identifies the danger on the horizon - but trends shown here are not inevitable. Each of them could be turned around if key actions are undertaken,” says Professor Russell Viner, report author and president of the College.
“We acknowledge that admirable action has been taken on some fronts, such as the Government’s Childhood Obesity Plan, which we believe will help to reverse current obesity trends if fully implemented. In childhood diabetes, a focused national strategy has driven major improvements in diabetes control in English children and young people. However, there is more work to be done elsewhere.”
Health chiefs in England are currently working on a 10-year strategic plan for the NHS, which is to be funded by a 3.5% hike in its budget equating to around £20 billion a year for the service by 2023/24, providing the "ideal opportunity" to improve child health, Prof Vinter says.
“If we are to turn the tide on these predictions, development of a Children and Young People’s Health Strategy for England and funding for a transformation programme to lead improvements in children’s health will be essential”.
“After 100 years of decline, the rise in infant mortality in England in recent years is really concerning and a clear sign that urgent action must be taken now if we are to see improvements to children’s health in the future,” Dr Gary Wannan, member of the British Medical Association consultants committee, told the media.
“We can no longer regard ourselves as one of the leading healthcare providers in Europe, and indeed across the world, if we lag behind so significantly in provision for young people.”
Nuffield Trust chief executive Nigel Edwards said the report “acts as a stark reminder of the road we are heading down if politicians and policymakers do not take child health seriously.
“We remain concerned that for far too long, children and young people’s health has been absent from policy wish lists. It is therefore timely that this report lands just as NHS England are drawing up their plan for the NHS and we support the RCPCH in welcoming its inclusion in the long-term plan.
“This is a crucial opportunity to make the health of children and young people a top priority for the health service and break the trajectory of this current worrying trend.”