Some positive action, but more needs to be done to improve Scotland’s child health

Responding to today’s Programme for Government, RCPCH Scotland highlighted the mixed bag offered by Scottish Government for Scotland’s children. RCPCH Scotland welcomed the actions being taken on air pollution, child poverty, early year’s mental health and disability assistance.

In welcoming the Scottish Child Payment being brought forward to December 2020, RCPCH Officer for Scotland Professor Steve Turner said:

To children living in poverty every day is a day too long. These children are more likely to have negative health outcomes, be born with low birth weight or fail to thrive and be exposed to risks that perpetuate ill health such as poor diet, lack of physical activity, parental drug or alcohol misuse and being in care.

Bringing forward the implementation of Scottish Child Payment and the introduction of the Homeless Prevention Fund will deliver hope to many of 210,000 children living in poverty in Scotland today. In addition these measures will start to reduce the impact of deprivation on health outcomes for our children and young people.

While welcoming the introduction of Disability Assistance for children and young people, Professor Turner highlighted concerns regarding the implementation of the benefit:

The application must be a straightforward process for parents/carers/paediatricians with a rigorous and timely claims process and review. However, with the process being reliant on access to community paediatricians for diagnosis, RCPCH Scotland is concerned that there are insufficient numbers of community paediatricians in disability which will ultimately lead to delays.

Childhood disability is more common the more deprived a population. However, in Glasgow the most deprived population in Scotland; there are fewer community paediatricians per head of population rather than more.

While these actions will have a positive impact of children’s health and wellbeing, other important measures have been overlooked. 

RCPCH Scotland recommended in the State of Child Health 2017 that Scottish Government should fund mandatory child health training for all general practice trainees and whilst an increase in the number of GP Trainees is welcomed, the falls short of the necessary action to improve child health.

Professor Steve Turner said:

GPs are the main healthcare providers for children. Children are estimated to make up around 40% of a typical GPs workload but less than one in three GPs in the UK have post-graduate specialist paediatric training with little undergraduate exposure to paediatrics.

This training would ensure that they are skilled to deal with childhood illness throughout a child’s life course to young adulthood.

With Scotland in the middle of an obesity epidemic, an ambitious Scottish Government target to cut childhood obesity by halve by 2030 the lack of actions to tackle obesity in the next year were notable. Commenting on their absence, Professor Steve Turner said: 

Child health today is a measure of the nation's health tomorrow so it was disappointing that legislation to address childhood obesity has been delayed until 2020.

Child poverty is a threat to a child receiving a healthy diet and affects 25% of children in Scotland today. Despite positive action on child poverty, Scottish Government today missed the opportunity to address this deprivation gap and introduce legislation to rebalance the restrictions on the promotion of foods high in fat, salt and sugar to the promotion of healthy foods to achieve making healthier choices easier choice for all.