Two party conferences and a Long-Term Plan. Labour first, then working with NHS England on the long-term plan for the NHS, then the Conservatives.
It was one helluva fortnight. By the end, I felt my head had been stuck in a washing machine!
But now the dust has settled on the 2018 party conference season, it’s a good time to take stock of the many conversations and announcements that happened. From Labour’s commitments to introducing a health inequality reduction target and free travel to hospital for children living with cancer, to the Prime Minister’s pledge that austerity is over and the Health Secretary’s announcement of an extra £240 million for social care packages this winter – there sure was a lot to keep up with!
I attended both Labour Party Conference in Liverpool and Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham to make sure that paediatricians and children and young people were at the front of everyone’s minds. Conferences are really busy times for those of us attending to try and influence decision-makers (and potential future decision-makers), and the days pass in a flurry of roundtables, influencing breakfasts, motivational dinners and coffee catch-ups.
Brexit battles and party infighting aside (it would be nice to put them aside for a while!), it was encouraging to hear so many times of the importance being placed by decision makers across the worlds of politics and of health on making sure our children and young people receive the care they deserve.
I was grateful for fascinating discussions with other decision makers on air pollution’s impact on children, the role of technology in the NHS and the impact of poverty on children’s outcomes
In a sunny but windy Liverpool, I enjoyed meeting Dr Paul Williams MP, member of the Health Select Committee, about the importance of investing in health visiting as the frontline defence against so many challenges to child health. Also, I met Nick Smith, MP for Blaenau Gwent in Wales, to grapple with the policy challenges involved in dealing with national epidemics such as childhood obesity and mental health in devolved contexts. And it was hugely exciting to hear Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, Jon Ashworth, reaffirm his commitment to making child health one of the central policy planks for a Labour government. Elsewhere, I was grateful for fascinating discussions with other decision makers on air pollution’s impact on children, the role of technology in the NHS and the impact of poverty on children’s outcomes.
In many other meetings in Liverpool the topic on the tip of everyone’s tongues was the NHS England Long-Term Plan. Not surprisingly each of us had slightly different priorities for the recently announced £20 billion (“children, children, children” was my approach!). But importantly, there was a real unanimity and urgency about the importance of getting the plan right.
I was heartened by the clarity and unity amongst decision makers in recognising the time is now to embed the voice and needs of children and young people at the heart of the plan. As Co-Leader for the Healthy Childhood and Maternal Health workstream in the plan, I am determined to make sure this is the case.
This was the talk of the town – or should I say city! – in Birmingham too at Conservative Conference, where ‘A Long-Term Plan for the NHS’ was emblazoned on countless walls around the conference venue. A number of times I ran into the new Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock, whose infectious enthusiasm for tackling the challenges the NHS faces in the modern world was a feature of the many panels he spoke on – including here at an RCGP event.
It has never been so vital that the needs of children and young people are heard and understood when these generation-defining decisions are being made
In among the many early morning roundtables, fringe events and policy dinners, I was grateful to grab conversations with many MPs with real passion for promoting child health – including Maggie Throup, an aide to Ministers at the Department of Health, and Andrew Selous, another member of the Health Select Committee. It struck me a number of times in all my conversations that there’s no question that decision makers understand the pressures facing the NHS and its workforce; the real challenge is making sure change and investment is directed to the right places, where and when it’s needed. It has never been so vital that the needs of children and young people are heard and understood when these generation-defining decisions are being made.
Since the conferences, RCPCH has published a new report that projects child health outcomes in England out to 2030, and makes exactly the same point. It finds that, based on current trends, children in England will not just have poorer health outcomes than their peers in comparable wealthy countries; their health will be falling even further behind. At conference and in this report, I was clear that we need a Children and Young People’s Health Strategy for England, like those developing in Scotland and Wales.
My highlight of this year’s party conference season, however, was saved right until the end. It was an absolute privilege to speak on the panel at a joint Action for Children and BrightBlue event on children and young people’s mental health. This was not just because this is an issue close to my heart, but because of the absolute pleasure of speaking alongside Rowan and Jake, young people who have been supported by Action for Children. Hearing their insight and experience of how the right support at the right time was so vital to them was nothing short of inspiring and provides a real reminder of what our political lobbying and advocacy work is all about.
With party conferences already feeling far behind us, it’s important to maintain the momentum we’ve been building in putting child health firmly on the political agenda. The Government will be announcing their Budget at the end of October and the NHS England Long-Term Plan is set to launch in the coming months. We need to see a real focus on children and young people in these plans so that – now and into the future – they can access the high quality healthcare and timely support that they deserve.