Children’s doctors upskill to help parents and children face growing poverty and inequalities

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) is today publishing a bank of resources that will help paediatricians to support families who come to their clinics and are suffering from the impact of poverty, low wealth, and inequalities. 
Health inequalities toolkit | Develop skills for talking to families - with icon with group of people
  • The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) calls on the new Prime Minister to take vital action to tackle growing child inequalities and poverty across the UK, including publishing the Health Disparities White Paper and making clear how child poverty and health inequalities will be reduced. 
  • The membership body is publishing a range of resources to help upskill paediatricians to provide care for families impacted by poverty and health inequalities  
  • This comes as survey data of nearly 500 paediatricians shows 60% believe the cost-of-living crisis is already impacting the health and wellbeing of children and young people 

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) is today publishing a bank of resources that will help paediatricians to support families who come to their clinics and are suffering from the impact of poverty, low wealth, and inequalities. 

Health inequalities are the avoidable, unfair, and systematic differences in health outcomes between different groups of babies, children, and young people. Evidence shows that child poverty is a key driving factor in health inequalities. Lifelong health inequalities take root in childhood and impact a person’s future. Data consistently show that poverty and inequality affect their education, housing, and social environment and in turn their health outcomes.  

In a recent survey, 60% of paediatricians said they believe the rising cost of living is already having a direct impact on health and wellbeing of children and their families. The results showed that paediatricians are seeing rising mental health concerns in patients and their families, increased poor nutrition and a rise in families being unable to attend medical appointments as transport costs rise.  

When asked about the cost-of-living crisis, paediatricians told us:  

“Families cannot afford to get transport to hospital - we have had to resort to use of the ambulance service in urgent settings.” 

“I have seen families with infants who informed me that they had no heating due high cost.” 

“It has limited some parent’s ability to visit their critically ill children in ICU because they have to work. This is heart-breaking and wrong. These parents and children deserve better support.” 

“Seeing rising inequalities which is even more apparent in the most deprived areas of the city, which seems to be getting larger. The gap also appears to be widening between, the least and most deprived areas.” 

“I am an allergy specialist, many of my patients are in poor quality damp housing which impacts their asthma/allergic rhinitis directly. Families who use food banks have difficulty in getting safe foods for children and young people with multiple food allergies - so parents end up restricting their own foods to buy food for their children.’ 

“When the sibling of a child with complex neurological disorder says he doesn't want to go home, because ‘hospital is amazing’ your heart breaks. For this young boy home is a hotel room, with no toys, no outdoor, limited food supplies, and no other children to play with... this is not the childhood we would want for any child.” 

“Parents are fearful of this winter. One parent said to me the other day, "this winter, we will be ruined." 

Dr Camilla Kingdon, RCPCH President said:  

For paediatricians, child health inequalities are impossible to miss. It’s in the asthma that won’t go away from poor quality damp housing, the destructive impact of food insecurity, poor dental health or low birth weight. Whole families are impacted, and we are often asked for advice or letters for housing, debt, or other local services, and of course support for rising mental health concerns. These issues impact children their entire lives and further entrench unacceptable inequalities. Action is needed urgently.  

We live in one of the richest countries. There is a huge obligation on us as a nation to improve child health outcomes and secure the future health of the nation.  We are calling on the new PM to ensure children are at the centre of all upcoming policy making. As the government sets to tackle the impact of COVID-19 and the cost-of-living crisis – which are clearly exacerbating these issues – they must concurrently shift the dial on child health inequalities.   

In the meantime, paediatricians are doing what they can to upskill and help tackle child inequalities. The resources we are launching today are designed to help paediatricians have the right conversations with patients and families, and help them navigate the political and economic environment, and work with local services to make improvements. This is something our members routinely call for. I am exceptionally proud of my profession and of my peers for their unyielding dedication to child health and wellbeing.   

Dr Mike McKean, RCPCH VP for Policy:  

Negative health outcomes among children living in more income deprived areas compared to their peers are growing at an extremely high rate - this is disturbing but in no way surprising. Afterall, poverty is a clear driver of inequality and in turn negative health outcomes. It is shocking to think despite the UK being the 5th richest country in the world, approximately 30% of all children are living in poverty – four million in total.   

The current cost of living crisis has created a perfect storm where health inequalities are predicted to get far worse. This will destroy lives. For children and young people, there is a golden window of opportunity for lifelong health outcomes, the condition in which a child enters adulthood is critical. Evidence has demonstrated the massive economic benefits for countries who place their children at the centre of their policies on health, education, and social care. By truly valuing all children, whatever circumstances they are born into, we create a healthier citizen, less dependent on the state in the future and more able to rise to the many challenges of modern-day life. 

More often than not, the battle with inequality is won or lost during childhood. But I believe with adequate insight, focus and funding we can win this battle and create a fairer society for all.  

The RCPCH will be providing their members with:  

  • Communication tools on how to talk to parents about poverty in clinic 
  • A range of factors to consider if interested in starting a quality improvement project to improve NHS services that reduce child health inequalities  
  • Tips on how to influence local policy to make change - emphasising evidence and data as a powerful tool in advocacy  

The products were created in collaboration with paediatricians and tested out by children, young people, and their families to make sure they resonated, provided practical assistance, and crucially were in the right language for them. The children and young people have produced a range of fantastic artwork outlining what health inequalities mean to them.  

You can find a full list of resources and artwork here.