RCPCH responds to the Government's Prevention Green Paper

Yesterday the Government published its eagerly awaited green paper on prevention, seeking views on its proposals to tackle the causes of preventable ill health in England. We know that primary prevention that begins before birth is crucial to the success of the NHS Long Term Plan, and so RCPCH welcomes this development. The green paper includes many positives for child health, but there are also areas where vital detail is missing, or a convincing commitment seems lacking.

The paper sets out a range of measures for helping children to get a good start in life. In particular, we are pleased to see the paper state that the Government will focus on:

  • Data: Launch a new health index to track the health of the nation; commission an infant feeding survey to provide information on breastfeeding and the use of food and drink other than breastmilk; and modernise the healthy child programme, including better linkages with the digital red book.
  • Healthy weight: Launch chapter 3 of the childhood obesity plan; explore how key information can be made more accessible, including improvements in marketing and labelling of infant food and better sharing of child measurement data in digital health records; and ban the sale of energy drinks to under 16s.
  • Vulnerable children: Fund programmes looking to tackle adverse childhood experiences, including children growing up with alcohol-dependent parents; revise statutory guidance to embed mental health education in schools; and launch a vaccinations strategy.

Despite the many positives, we are concerned that the paper lacks commitment in a number of cross-cutting areas. These include:

  • Workforce: There is no mention of the public health workforce, or a commitment to provide further investment for it.
  • Funding: There is no moratorium or reversal of public health funding cuts.
  • Policy detail: A number of policy areas are lacking vital details, including plans to improve the nutritional and sugar content of commercially available baby food and drink; a timeline for driving forward commitments in chapter 2 of the obesity plan; and lack of specific focus on the first 1000 days of life.

Responding to the consultation, Dr Max Davie, Officer for Health Improvement for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said:

We know that a healthy child is much more likely to become a healthy adult so the Government’s Prevention Green Paper is a welcome step towards creating a healthier, more prosperous society. The launch of a new health index that will help track the health of the nation alongside other top level indicators is particularly encouraging, allowing trends to be identified early and appropriate action taken.

However, where there is promise with the launch of a new health index, measures to ban the sale of energy drinks to under 16s and review front of pack labelling, development of a much needed vaccination strategy and strengthening knowledge around infant feeding, there is one significant area omitted.

The gap between rich and poor is growing, yet the services that aim to support those most in need are shrinking. It is therefore hugely concerning that there is no reference to the reversal of public health funding cuts in this paper. As a new Prime Minister takes office in Downing Street, my message to them is clear. Prioritise the health of infants, children and young people, push forward the welcome plans in this preventative Green Paper but invest in reducing health inequality, as it is this factor that rocks the foundations of society as a whole.