Child health matters - the 100 day challenge
It’s over three months since the elections in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and 100 days since we posed our challenges to the new governments. What better time to take stock of what has been achieved for child health across the devolved nations this summer?
What has been achieved in Scotland?
There are some familiar faces in the Scottish Government’s Department for Health and Social Care, with Shona Robison remaining as Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport and Maureen Watt taking on a new role as Mental Health Minister. Former Minister for Children and Young People, Aileen Campbell, takes on the Public Health brief while the slightly altered role of Minister for Childcare and Early Years has gone to Mark McDonald MSP.
The SNP Government has been busy since its re-election in May. Consultations on a new ten year vision for mental health services and a Child Poverty Bill have been launched this summer, and the College is in the process of preparing our responses to both. Children and young people’s mental health and tackling health inequalities are both key areas in our challenge to Scottish Government, so we greatly welcome these consultations. In more good news, Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell has also confirmed that a new 10-year child and adolescent health and wellbeing strategy – which will cover both physical and mental health – is being developed. We look forward to hearing more about this important piece of work.
The Health and Sport Committee have also been proactive in planning for child health. They have confirmed that a new diet and obesity action plan will be examined, which is very promising given our ask that the Scottish Government focus on preventing ill health by acting early and intervening at the right time. The Committee will also host an inquiry into workforce recruitment and retention, with a particular focus on remote and rural working. We hope that the recommendations resulting from this inquiry will include support for the implementation of our Facing the Future: Standards for Acute General Paediatric Services and Facing the Future: Together for Child Health Standards.
Since May, we have spent a lot of time at Holyrood meeting various MSPs, including a number of members of the influential Health and Sport Committee and the Labour Shadow Health team. We have also caught up with the Chief Medical Officer and hope to meet with the Cabinet Secretary to discuss our priorities for child health soon.
What has been achieved in Wales?
Our broader Vision 2016 manifesto: Child health matters [ENG] | [CYM]
There’s been a bit of a shake-up in the Welsh Government. Vaughan Gething took over from Mark Drakeford in Health, or to give the post its new name, Cabinet Secretary for Health, Wellbeing and Sport. We’re looking forward to meeting the Cabinet Secretary later this year.
In our Vision 2016 manifesto, we had asked the new Welsh Government to appoint a Minister for Children with lead responsibility for all policies affecting children, child rights and child health so we welcomed the creation of a new role: Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children, with the post going to Carl Sargeant.
We also called for Welsh Government to restore a Children’s Committee with a specific remit for engaging with the views of children and young people across Wales and ensure they are included in decisions about their health and wellbeing. Well, the Children, Young People and Education Committee has been established and it is currently consulting on what its priorities should be for this fifth Assembly. A key part of our response is about making sure that Government action is joined up across the whole range of policy areas affecting infants, children and young people. The Children, Young People and Education Committee has a key role in making sure that’s exactly what happens!
Another consultation we’re working on is about the health and social care workforce. We’re glad to see this being a priority for the new Assembly and we’re keen to see action when the consultation exercise is complete. Watch out for our biennial workforce census later this year – we’ll be making sure this helps the Welsh Government plan for a sustainable child health workforce.
New Minister for Public Health, Rebecca Evans, has indicated that there is progress to be made on obesity and activity levels. We need to make sure this includes children in Wales as well as adults and hope to see action to tackle the consumption of food and drink high in sugar, fat and salt.
Some good news as a final point. First Minister Carwyn Jones announced shortly after forming a new Welsh Government that he would “take forward, on a cross-party basis, legislation that will remove the defence of reasonable chastisement” of children. That seems like a pretty clear commitment to us!
What has been achieved in Northern Ireland?
This year’s Northern Ireland Assembly elections have heralded the formation of an official opposition for the first time ever. Rather than take Ministerial posts as they had previously done, the UUP and SDLP have decided to hold the DUP/Sinn Fein power-sharing Executive to account in the Assembly – a significant step for the Northern Ireland democratic process.
In policy news, the Northern Ireland Executive launched a consultation on its Programme for Government (PfG) this summer. We responded stressing our Vision 2016 asks, commenting on health inequalities, reducing preventable deaths and the quality of the healthcare experience.
We have a new Health Minister - Michelle O’Neill – who since coming to post has prioritised a range of issues including All-Ireland alcohol and substance misuse initiatives, prevention of suicide and the extension of initiatives like the paediatric congenital heart disease network, which we have been calling for. The Minister has stated that reducing health inequalities by way of prevention and early intervention requires tackling deprivation.
The new-look Health Committee – chaired by Paula Bradley MLA – has been busy this summer. In a meeting with the Public Health Agency Chief, the Committee highlighted that the smoking in vehicles carrying children legislation has yet to be commenced. This aligns very much with our Vision 2016 asks, and we have made representations to the Committee to press DoH on this matter.
The Committee for Communities has prioritised the Liquor Licencing Bill for their first session upon return from recess in September 2016. Among other things, this Bill includes key safeguards to restrict young people’s access to alcohol. Committee Member Nicola Mallon MLA has called for a secure children’s mental health unit stating that when a child's mental health has deteriorated due to drug use there is no safe and secure space available to them. In the same vein, Michelle Gildernew MLA has stated that it is “hugely important we get children’s mental health right” and called for a forensic inpatient paediatric psychiatric provision and an end to children being treating on adult wards. We are very encouraged to see this, as parity of esteem for children’s mental health is a priority policy area for the College.
The challenge continues...
It may be 100 days since we first posed our child health challenges to the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland governments, but our call for action does not end here! We want to see our Vision for children’s health and wellbeing across the three nations realised, and will continue to work with Ministers, MSPs, AMs, MLAs and Civil Servants to ensure that child health is at the top of the political agenda for the months and years to come. Watch this space for more #childhealthmatters activity in the devolved nations.
There are a number of ways to get involved with our #childhealthmatters campaign in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.
- Follow us on Twitter for updates on our work! @RCPCHScotland, @RCPCHWales and @RCPCHIreland
- Tweet your local Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs), Welsh Assembly Members (AMs) or Members of the Legislative Assembly in Northern Ireland (MLAs) and ask them to support the policy calls in our Challenge documents, and wider recommendations in our Vision manifestos
- If social media isn't your thing, you can email or write to your MSPs, AMs or MLAs and urge them to support RCPCH recommendations for child health policy
- Ask to meet with one of your local MSPs, AMs or MLAs to discuss child health issues in more detail
- Join our parliamentary panel for opportunities to represent the College at political events and learn more about influencing and effectively communicating with politicians
- Join our press panel for opportunities to promote #childhealthmatters and represent the College in the media.
For support with this and any other action, please email the External Affairs Manager in your relevant RCPCH office:
Northern Ireland: email@example.com
For more information on the public affairs work of the RCPCH, please contact the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.