Leading doctors across Britain have said that the UK is at risk of “lagging behind” other European countries when it comes to child health. A new report entitled State of Child Health (SOCH) published by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) has indicated that our nation is “in danger of failing a generation of children and young people” as we fall behind on many key indicators of child health. Death rates for babies under the age of one, levels of obesity and vaccination rates are either comparatively poor or stalling in their progress, according to the new report.
RCPCH Officer for Scotland, Professor Steve Turner, has spoken out on these issues, particularly highlighting the rise in the number of young people dying in Scotland. The level of young people taking their own lives has risen sharply, with the number of people aged between 15 and 24 per 100,000 increasing from 9.8 to 15.1 – the biggest rise of any country in the UK and the second worst rate behind Northern Ireland with 17.8. He has said an end to child poverty as well as early intervention and improvement of services for children and young people should be on the agenda ahead of the 2021 Holyrood election.
Today’s children will very quickly become tomorrow’s parents, patients, leaders and workers who drive the Scottish economy,
said Dr Steve Turner.
If we all work together to create an environment which nurtures and produces a population of physically healthy and mentally resilient children, we will create an exciting and vibrant country for us all to live in. Urgent and bold action at national and local government levels will be required to meet the 2030 targets. All parties should commit to making children’s health a manifesto priority with a focus on ending child poverty and health inequalities, prioritising public health prevention and early intervention, and enhancing services for children and young people.
Across most indicators in the report, health outcomes are worse for children who live in deprived areas. The authors highlight that, even where there have been notable improvements in children’s health, the UK is often lagging far behind other countries. For example, although there has been a fall in the number of emergency asthma admission rates across all four nations, the UK still has one of the highest mortality rates in Europe for children and young people with asthma.
Some of the main findings in the RCPCH SOCH Scotland report include:
- Mortality: Infant mortality rates (or deaths of children under the age of one) are decreasing in Scotland (3.6 to 3.2 per 1,000 live births. However, child and adolescent mortality rates are showing a worrying upward trend, particularly in adolescents with an increase from 19.5 to 24.6 per 100,000 children aged 10-19.
- Maternal and perinatal health: A small increase in the rate of breastfeeding has been noted in Scotland: 27.2% to 30.7% which is just over 3%.
- Prevention of ill health: Since 2014 there have been “signs of decline” in vaccination rates for the six-in-one vaccination and MMR. Both inoculations are given during the routine childhood vaccination programme and protect children against measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, hepatitis B, haemophilus influenzae type b, polio, tetanus and whooping cough.
- Prevention of ill health: The rate of children who start school overweight or obese has not improved significantly in any of the UK’s four countries since 2006/7. Scotland has shown an increase of around 1%, with 22.4% of 4-5-year olds recorded as overweight or obese.
- Family and social environment: Experts have raised concerns about the overall number of children living in poverty. Scotland has shown an increase of 2%, with 24% of children aged 0-18 now living in relative poverty after housing costs.
- Mental Health: The report highlights increased demand for mental health services and the rates of admissions to CAMHS. There is a concerning suicide rate increase in Scotland from 9.8 to 15.1 per 100,000 young people aged 15-24 (far greater than the other nations).
- Long term conditions: There has been a marked increase in the rates of disabled children and those with additional support needs in mainstream education. In Scotland these rates have increased from 20.8% to 30.9% and is at variance with the rest of the UK.
The SOCH Scotland report into the health and wellbeing of children and young people was launched this month in the Scottish Parliament and contains three overarching themes which RCPCH apply to all four nations in the UK:
- Reduce child health inequalities – gap between children’s health in wealthy and deprived backgrounds
- Prioritise public health, prevention and early intervention – immunisation programmes
- Build and strengthen local, cross-sector services to reflect local need – assist local authorities to fully implement GIRFEC principles.
The report concludes with key recommendations for Scottish Policy Makers on a number of key child health issues, such as:
- Mortality: Across the age span, maternal and perinatal health (smoking in pregnancy and breast feeding),
- Prevention of ill health: Immunisations, healthy weight, oral health.
- Injury prevention: Accidents, road traffic accidents, youth violence.
- Healthy behaviours: Smoking in young people, substance use in young people, conceptions in young people.
- Mental health: Mental health conditions, mental health services, suicide.
- Family and social environment: Child poverty, Education, employment or training, young carers, children in the child protection system, Looked After Children.
- Long-term conditions: Asthma, epilepsy, diabetes, cancer, disability and additional learning needs.
- Workforce: Child health workforce
RCPCH is calling on all parties across the Scottish Government in advance of the Scottish elections in 2021 to commit to making child health a priority and to fully resource and fund their commitments in this area.
Click here to download the Scotland report and compare with other nations.