Senior doctors call for cuts to child services in England to be reversed

Author: Caroline White

Senior doctors have called for cuts to children’s health and social care services in England to be reversed, amid concerns that child health is suffering as a result.

An analysis* published yesterday by the British Medical Association (BMA) highlights a serious lack of investment across a range of child services, and the doctors’ union is now urging the government to boost investment next month’s budget to ensure children have a healthy start in life.

Analysis of data looking at investment in child services and child health staff shows that spending on Sure Start and early years services in England has fallen by 39% since 2014/15.

The spend on children’s (5-19) public health services in England has declined by 6% since 2016-17, and for mandated children’s (0-5) public health services by 5%.

The number of health visitors in England has decreased by 24% since 2015, while the number of school nurses has decreased by 13% since 2010.

Supply is not yet sufficient to meet the levels of demand on child and adolescent mental health services, says the BMA.

The BMA has called on the government to listen to the experts working on the ground, who are seeing day-to day the impact of cuts to public services.

The report makes two key recommendations: to prioritise child health across government, with the establishment of a cross-government ‘healthy childhood strategy’, supported with coordinated investment in services; and a commitment by the government in the forthcoming budget to reverse cuts to local authority children’s services and public health budgets in England.

Commenting on the report, BMA board of science chair Dame Professor Parveen Kumar said: “The early years of a child’s life lay the foundations for their future health and wellbeing, so it’s essential we do all we can to give them the best start.

“Early years services have been proven to support children’s development and learning. Without them, children are more likely to have adverse experiences that can lead to serious health problems later on, ultimately widening health inequalities and putting more pressure on the NHS.”

She added that “a huge disservice” was being done to children by denying them the care they need at such a formative time. “The government talks a lot about the importance of prevention, but we need to see action,” she said.

“If they’re serious, then cuts to these vital services must be reversed in the upcoming budget, with funding for all children’s services to ensure every youngster gets the support they deserve.”

President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Professor Russell Viner commented: “This excellent report echoes our own view that a truly preventative approach to health requires a cross-government focus on improving the social conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. This ‘health in all policies’ approach could drastically improve the outcomes and experiences of children and young people.”

He continued: “At the same time, the government needs to reverse the current trends in health inequality by increasing public health funding and, at the very least, bringing funding of this sector back to former levels until there has been a clear impact assessment of the effects of the most recent cuts.” 

 Supporting a healthy childhood: the need for greater investment in services in England. British Medical Association, 11 February 2020.