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UK child health still amongst the worst in Europe

Report reveals major inadequacies

Jo Carlowe

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Children in the UK still have poorer health outcomes than their peers in Europe, according to a new report published today. 

The first Annual Report of the Children and Young People’s Health Outcomes Forum (drawn up by an independent advisory group of professionals and representatives from across the children’s sector) notes that despite “notable improvements in measured outcomes for children” this has occurred at a slower rate in the UK compared to other countries in northern and western Europe. 

Most telling is the mortality data for children and young people, states the Forum. In 2010, data revealed that the all-cause mortality rate for children aged 0–14 years had moved from the average to among the worst in Europe. The figures have since been updated but the situation is no better. 

“If we compare ourselves with the country with the lowest mortality for children and young people, Sweden (after controlling for population size among other variables), we find that in the UK every day five children under the age of 14 die who would not die in Sweden. This equates to the alarming figure of 132,874 person years of life being lost each year in the UK.”

Within England there are also major variations in a number of key measurements, notes the Forum, including, for example, a three-fold variation in admission of term babies into neonatal units, deaths from accidental injury showing a three-fold variation across the regions and the MMR vaccine rate of uptake ranging from 69.7% to 95.3% by local authority. 

Christine Lenehan, Co-chair of the Children and Young People’s Health Outcome Forum also highlighted concerns around child mental health provision. 

“The Forum is concerned that children’s mental health services are becoming disjointed to the point that children are falling through the gaps. More investment is urgently needed and we expect the NHS to make sure that the parity of esteem element of the NHS Mandate is being followed through.”

Commenting, Dr Peter Carter, Chief Executive & General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “This report highlights that specific health care provision for children and young people in the UK remains inadequate.

“Children and young people in the UK still have poorer health outcomes than their peers in northern and western European countries and there is also considerable variation in health outcomes around the UK. Too many children and young people are being let down.”

He added: “Inaction is not an option. There is a clear imperative to improve health care provision for children and young people, otherwise we are just storing up massive health problems for the future.

“Improved planning, more integrated working, and sufficient investment in the right nursing staff and services will go a long way towards ensuring better health outcomes for future generations.”

Today’s report ends with a list of measures setting out the Forum’s work plan for 2014. Included is a pledge to work with all system organisations to ensure that future development of payment by results for child health incentivises safe and sustainable services and to ensure that “appropriate children and young people’s health outcome indicators are in place and that progress against the indicators, including regional variations, is reviewed”.

Commenting, Christine Lenehan, co-chair, said: “There has been much improvement in the health sector in the last couple of years to address the concerns we had initially. However, more needs to be done, and faster.

“We have challenged the sector on where more progress is needed to deliver on its pledge to improve the health outcomes of our children and young people. We want to see our system amongst the best in the world, and make sure we reduce the number of children who are needlessly dying.

“There needs to be a greater focus on public health and early intervention and prevention, with a raised profile of role that schools can and should play.”

Maternity and Child Health Minister, Dr Dan Poulter said: “Since the Forum’s first report we now have a much needed and unparalleled focus on children and young people’s health. Too often in the past, children’s health has been an afterthought and this has led to unacceptable variation.

“We are working hard to change this.”

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