Message from the President - 3 August

Russell has heard from many members with concerns for at-risk and vulnerable children in this period, and we're now seeking your insights. He also welcomes the UK government's recent announcement about obesity and junk food advertising, but we need to understand how people's lives are and see the detail.

It’s my first week back from a two-week break, which I spent in a remote campsite. It was very strange to go away but extraordinarily refreshing to charge the batteries and spend some time away from emails and COVID-19 pressures.

Coming back of course plunges you straight back in the deep end. The College is now working hard on planning for winter. I’ll be writing a lot about this topic in the coming weeks, but for now I want to ask for your help. During the COVID-19 period members and colleagues have been in touch with concerns about at-risk and vulnerable children. These concerns have been many and varied.

COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown, closure of schools and changes to the way services are delivered mean we are simply not seeing many children and families who may need help. As we heard this past week, Health Visiting has not really recovered since widescale redeployments during the first wave. Unemployment - or fear of it - furloughing, reduced income and pressures from being stuck at home together will have increased stress levels in a huge number of families. Worryingly, there is evidence of increased rates of domestic abuse and non-accidental injury to children. All at a time when local authorities are in deep financial trouble.

...we need evidence, qualitative and quantitative information about what you’re seeing

We think our protection systems, workforce and the services around paediatrics need urgent attention – but to make the case we need evidence, qualitative and quantitative information about what you’re seeing. Much of the routinely collected data is lagging and is not designed for quick turnaround reporting. So, if you’re concerned about what’s happening (or not happening) to vulnerable or at-risk children, please share your experiences on our short form (you can remain anonymous if you wish.)

We’re not being prescriptive; your insight might be about safeguarding, nutritional issues, long waiting lists, service issues at local authority level or other concerns. If you could be specific, rather than sharing general fears and worries, that would be hugely helpful. This information will really help, and we’ve shown our collective voice is powerful.

This past week we had an important announcement from the UK government about obesity and the regulation of junk food advertising. I’ve been involved in this work for many years and it is a fraught and difficult area of public policy. The commitment to ban junk food advertising pre-9pm is something we’ve worked for – and will, in the medium term, make a difference. The expansion of weight management services is also welcome and something that we’ve called for previously, although I’d like to see a lot more detail about how it’s going to be funded.

What better way to emerge from this grim period than with a national focus and a recovery plan to support the next generation

It’s a step in the right direction but as we showed in our State of Child health report, it’s impossible to tackle childhood obesity without understanding health inequalities. The pandemic has brought this into sharper focus. Millions of families have neither the time not the money to prepare nutritious food. Many people live in ‘food deserts’ with limited access to fresh food and no means to travel further afield. So, while this package of measures is very welcome, we need to zoom out and understand how people’s lives really are. It’s a hackneyed phrase at this point but we are long overdue a New Deal for children. What better way to emerge from this grim period than with a national focus and a recovery plan to support the next generation. 

The new People Plan for the NHS in England came out last Friday, and I’ve written about it. Again, good in parts but I think it suffers greatly from a lack of detail about recruitment and money. The focus on wellbeing, diversity and inclusion is incredibly welcome – but we need boots on the ground and, psychologically, I think people really need to know that help is on the way. The onus is on the UK government to back up the warm words with a big commitment in the spending review. What little resilience there was in the system is pretty much spent.

Finally, our Honorary Fellowship programme is open for nominations through next Friday. If you know someone who’s made an exceptional contribution to paediatrics, you can nominate them here.

That’s all for now.


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