As a paediatrician I am increasingly worried about our children. As each week passes, more data and stories come to light that bear witness to the fact that childhood in our country is simply not as good as it should be. This bothers me as a citizen but it especially troubles me as a doctor. A healthy childhood is fundamental to health and wellbeing over the life course. It has never been more important to take action and find every possible opportunity to make the argument for why this has to change.
We know that there will be a General Election in the next year or so. An election is a perfect opportunity to clearly articulate the problem and then lay out the case for change. Politics is increasingly unpredictable and political parties are already preparing their election manifestos. So, we must be prepared. We must use this important opportunity to speak up for children and child health.
That is why this week we published our manifesto that calls on political parties to support children’s health and wellbeing by adopting policy recommendations we make under five key pillars:
- Child health services
- The paediatric workforce
- The prevention of ill health
- Child protection and safeguarding
- Data and digital
These pillars are framed by a call to parties to – if elected - establish a cabinet level Minister for Children and Young People and other so-called “machinery of government” changes that we believe will result in better policy making for children and young people.
Our Manifesto will be the foundation for all the campaigning work that the College undertakes in the lead up to the election. I am really thrilled that our understanding that government needs to work differently if it is to deliver for children and young people is shared across the children’s sector. We are stronger when we collaborate and finding common messages is key.
I commend our RCPCH General Election Manifesto to you. We are calling it Support children’s health and wellbeing in a changing world to acknowledge the seismic changes that have occurred since the COVID-19 pandemic, and that continue to impact children due to the cost-of-living crisis and the impact of climate change. We have woven all our key concerns together based on what we have heard from paediatricians in all four UK nations such as on workforce or waiting times, as well as what our children are telling us via our fantastic children and young people’s engagement group, RCPCH&Us, including on clean air and health inequalities.
We do of course recognise that health, education and children’s social policy is devolved to national governments. But the fundamentals needed to ensure children are healthy, happy and well are similar across UK, as are many of the core requirements to support the child health workforce. While this manifesto is aimed at the next government in Westminster, wherever it makes sense, our priorities align across the UK.
Over the coming months, we’ll speak to politicians, their advisors and party officials encouraging them to adopt our proposals. We won’t do this all alone. Understanding the power of speaking with one voice, wherever possible the College will team up with other charities and organisations to make these calls. I’m particularly excited that as the election nears, the College will launch a campaign allowing you – our members - to speak directly to your candidates in the hope that, if elected, they will become important advocates for children’s health and wellbeing in Parliament.
I recognise that many paediatricians have no desire to get involved politically. I have heard paediatricians say that they are doctors, not activists. I understand that sentiment entirely and we do not expect anyone to undertake any work that they aren’t comfortable with. However, every one of us does need to understand the wider social determinants of health and this Manifesto essentially describes the current environment and how it influences our patients’ health and wellbeing.
Some of us do want to take a further step but don’t really know how to do that. Our election campaign work is going to give you plenty of opportunities to easily get involved using our e-action platform and other methods of amplifying the five pillars we have outlined and to use your voice, your expertise and your patients’ stories to make the case to politicians in your locality, for why things must change (watch this space for more detail). I also encourage you to reach out to us with any feedback. Our influencing is stronger as a result.
As a Royal College, we are proud to undertake this work because we want the UK to be the best place in the world to be a child. We know that there is the potential for this to be realised but we acknowledge that there is a massive amount of work to be done to achieve that ambition. We believe we know what needs to be done. I also know that collectively as paediatricians we have the energy and enthusiasm to play our part. However, we cannot make this dream come true on our own. We need all of society to decide that our nation’s children deserve the very best start in life. So let’s get our message out and use the election to make the difference for children.