BLOG: Child Health in the news in 2016

2016 has certainly been a year that will long live in collective memory. Electoral shocks around the world supplemented by the refugee crisis and gritty internal party politics have taken the limelight on the front pages of newspapers and TV and radio news programmes. But for those RCPCH members who received the Daily Press Cuttings, they will have seen that this year’s news hasn’t just been about Brexit and Donald Trump - 2016 has also been a year in which child health has found itself on the front page.

Glasses resting on an open newspaper

Childhood obesity has been front and centre of Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s in-tray this year. 2016 began with the WHO releasing figures showing that the number of children under five who are overweight or obese has risen to 41 million worldwide, from 31 million in 1990, and ended with Government pushing ahead with a sugar tax. The Government published its Childhood Obesity Plan which was labelled as ‘weak’ by RCPCH President Professor Neena Modi. The plan failed to include RCPCH recommended policies to overcome childhood obesity such as banning advertising of junk foods before the watershed and the extension of the National Child Measurement Programme. However, Prof Modi welcomed the government’s commitment to a soft drinks industry levy, which recent research has suggested could result in more than 140,000 fewer children and adults with obesity, 269,000 fewer cases of decaying teeth and 19,000 fewer cases of type 2 diabetes every year.

The ongoing junior doctors’ contract dispute has been a mainstay of numerous column inches throughout the year. Back in January, Prof Modi wrote to Jeremy Hunt outlining the RCPCH’s concerns on safety, training and pay regarding the contract. By May, a contract was seemingly close to being agreed, only for it to be rejected by members of the BMA owing to concerns about government plans for a seven day service and a feeling the contract did not properly reward them for such a demanding role. Jeremy Hunt responded to this by saying that the contract would be imposed on junior doctors anyway.

As the junior doctor dispute continued to rumble onwards, the RCPCH released findings from its rota compliance and vacancies survey finding that more than one in four general paediatric posts at senior trainee level are vacant and almost nine out of 10 clinical directors said they were concerned about how paediatric services will cope in the next six months. And as health budgets are continually squeezed and workload rise, there is little hope that 2017 will prove to be more positive for the NHS workforce.

Meanwhile, the refugee crisis across Europe has continued apace. Back in May, then Prime Minister David Cameron said that the UK would help resettle child refugees from Europe – although declined to commit to a specific figure. It is thought that there are around 90,000 unaccompanied children seeking asylum in Europe, of which it is estimated that 30 have been transferred to the UK. In November, Prof Modi wrote a letter to the Daily Telegraph branding the government’s response to the crisis as shameful and calling for a show of compassion as the ‘appalling humanitarian crisis’ continues to unfold.

As the year comes to an end, these stories will continue through to 2017 alongside a whole host of other child health issues that will come to the world’s attention. For RCPCH members that want to stay up to date with these events, sign up to the Daily Press Cuttings on the members section of the website to ensure you’re the most informed paediatrician on your ward!