Tackling some of the biggest child health issues - President's blog

Camilla updates on the College’s work to advocate for child health, and how listening to the ideas of medical students and foundation doctors can inspire and energise.
Dr Camilla Kingdon  President, RCPCH

One of the many joys that Spring and Summer bring is that this is the season of work experience students and junior doctors doing taster weeks. I had the great privilege of having a Foundation doctor join me for my neonatal clinic last week. I love my clinic because I see our most high-risk graduates from the Neonatal Unit in a quiet child development centre in Lambeth, along with a physiotherapist and dietician. There’s something very fulfilling about getting together with parents who may have had a really difficult NICU journey, to talk about their experiences, answer their questions, review the progress their baby is making – and to do it alongside highly skilled allied health professionals. To then add an enthusiastic and motivated Foundation doctor into the mix, is fantastic!

Last week we had a brilliant clinic and saw some very interesting babies. The questions the Foundation doctor asked added to the interest. She wanted to know what the role of the GP was in the care of the babies. She asked about how paediatricians with acute skills could work seamlessly between hospital and community settings. She talked about how she imagined a different kind of service for children. She is currently doing a four months CAMHS placement, and she reflected on how that was giving her such a useful and relevant set of skills. She wanted to know how the ‘Integrated Care System’ could help smooth over the boundaries that currently exist between primary and secondary care. Already, at this early stage of her medical career, she is asking all the correct questions. Her ideas and observations made me realise we have junior doctors in the wings who are energised by the opportunities to work differently and will almost certainly help drive forward the integrated child health agenda if we give them the time and space to do it. It’s exciting to think about the potential and once again, made me realise how crucial it is that we offer tasters and work experience to high school children and students – you just never know what gems you may discover!

UK COVID-19 Inquiry

I am sure most paediatricians and colleagues working in child health will agree that the full impact of the pandemic on the overall health and wellbeing of children in this country remains a concern and an area of real uncertainty. To then discover that children were barely mentioned in the original terms of reference published by the UK COVID-19 Inquiry left most of the children’s charities and organisations determined to remedy that situation. The College responded to the Inquiry consultation and wrote formally to the Inquiry Chair, Baroness Hallett, to press the need for greater focus on children and young people. It’s a significant and welcome development that the terms of reference have now been redrafted to include the health and wellbeing of children, the impact on education and the mental health repercussions of the pandemic. It is vital that we understand why decisions were made about children during the pandemic – not to apportion blame but to learn lessons that can be applied to future emergencies.

Obesity policy U-turn and the cost of living crisis

Pre-pandemic childhood obesity was one of our biggest child health issues and this has intensified since the pandemic with the latest data highlighting that one in four children of reception school age are overweight or obese. It is therefore bitterly disappointing to learn that the UK Government has rowed back on its decision to introduce policies to restrict advertising foods high in fat, salt and sugar. The global economic situation is quoted as the reason for the delay in introducing rules about multibuys and junk food advertising. Nevertheless, the College is of the view that this is short-sighted and unfairly impacts children living in the most socially deprived parts of the UK. In a similar vein, a recent survey by the Royal College of Physicians estimated that 64% of parents caring for at least on child under the age of 18 reported that the cost-of-living crisis was having a negative or very negative impact on their health. As a College, we are using every avenue possible to highlight the need for additional support for families and for a cross-government strategy to reduce health inequalities.

Opportunities to get involved

Nominations are currently open for a number of key posts at the College – these include a new Chair of the Trainees Oversight Committee and also a new Officer for Health Improvement, both of which have a closing date of 30 May for nominations to be received. There are also several other opportunities to volunteer at the College, which you can find on our volunteering webpages.

Climate change

Finally – climate change is invariably a depressing topic – and another concerning issue that disproportionately impacts children globally. I am determined though to end my letter with something upbeat and so I want to share some positive news! Our RCPCH Climate Change Working Group is very busy. I mentioned in my previous message that we now have a toolkit to support paediatricians who want to engage with their local councils about air pollution – please do get involved! We are also using all our connections and relationships with other royal colleges to raise awareness of the importance of healthy air, as part of the UK Government’s Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) consultation on air quality. And if you want to raise awareness about the climate and specifically the impact of pollution on children, then please look at the Ride for Their Lives webpages where a number of cycle rides and activities are being organised for healthcare workers who want to raise the issue of the impact on children. The problems may feel insurmountable, but each of us can play our part.  

With my best wishes, and take care

Camilla


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