Risk of derailment to excellent progress in child health, reveals new report

Welsh Government continues to prioritise child health but ‘policies have to be delivered and enforced to reap the health benefits’ says Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) in ‘State of Child Health Wales: Two years on’ report.

Following the launch of their latest report, children’s doctors say 2019 could be a transformative year for child health in Wales, but only if the policies made are delivered and enforced.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health’s State of Child Health Wales: Two years on scorecard, launched today, looks at the progress made against the recommendations set out in its State of Child Health report published two years earlier. It has revealed that Welsh Government continues to prioritise the health of infants, children and young people but risks failing if policies linked to smoking, mental health and reducing child obesity are not enforced or enacted.

The scorecard has shown progress in a number of areas, including:

  • An obesity strategy has been developed including proposals to expand the Child Measurement Plan for Wales, to introduce clear front of pack labelling and to provide support for overweight or obese pregnant women.
  • Bans on smoking in public places have been extended to school grounds, playgrounds and NHS grounds.
  • The Minister for Health and Social Services has accepted recommendations to increase breastfeeding rates.
  • Twenty miles per hour speed limits have been introduced in built up areas in some towns and cities to create safe places for children to walk, cycle and play.
  • A new minimum unit pricing on alcohol is expected to come into force in spring 2019.
  • A Healthier Wales, the Welsh Government’s plan for health and social care, was published, which places an emphasis on preventing illness as well as treating it.
  • A new comprehensive personal, social and health education curriculum which includes sex and relationships education is being developed for schools in Wales, to be used throughout Wales by 2022.
  • A Ministerial group has been established to improve mental health support for young people.
  • Guidance on the potential dangers of concussion sustained during school and community sport and the publication of a booklet raising awareness of the risk of cot death have been produced to reduce avoidable child death. Messages have also been promoted around the dangers of blind cords.

Dr David Tuthill, Officer for Wales for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) said: 

With a new strategy to reduce levels of childhood obesity, targets to reduce smoking during pregnancy and work underway to develop national breastfeeding promotion programmes, the Welsh Government has laid firm foundations for a healthier environment for all children growing up in Wales. The commitments made in A Healthier Wales with its focus on prevention and on the importance of the first 1,000 days of life show they are serious about giving children the best start. We must now see action to deliver all of this in full, or their bold plans risk derailment.

I am particularly pleased with the progress made to improve public health with laws being passed to protect children from second hand smoke in playgrounds, hospitals and on school premises and on minimum unit pricing for alcohol. The urgent challenge now is in delivery and implementation. Babies and children are still encountering smoke in areas that are now meant to be smoke-free, putting them at increased risk of asthma attacks, respiratory and ear infections and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). It is crucial these laws are enforced so the most vulnerable in our country are protected.

Although there have been many positive steps to improve child health, the scorecard has also highlighted areas that require more attention:

  • All schools should make mental health support available to their pupils and professional bodies representing all those working with infants, children and young people should provide mental health training for their staff.
  • Health Education Wales should fund mandatory child health training for all GP trainees.
  • Welsh Government must establish specific targets to drive improvement in breastfeeding rates.
  • All maternity services in Wales must achieve and maintain UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative Accreditation.

Dr Tuthill continues:

With the establishment of a ministerial group aimed at improving children and young people’s mental health, there is an excellent opportunity to address some of the challenges that children battling ill mental health face. This includes timely intervention and access to appropriate services.

We know three children in every classroom will have a mental health problem and left unaddressed, it has the potential to change the entire course of a child’s life. We need to act early to prevent children reaching crisis point. And, for those that need specialist support, it needs to be available whenever and wherever they need it. I hope prevention and access to services are a focal point to the group’s work, and look forward to working with them to help improve the lives of Wales’ vulnerable children.