One of Scotland’s most senior paediatricians has today congratulated Scottish Government on bold plans to address three of the major barriers to good child health in Scotland - child poverty, obesity and mental health.
Two years on from the publication of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health’s (RCPCH) landmark State of Child Health report, the College has revisited the recommendations made within it to determine just how far child health has improved since its launch.
Overall, the State of Child Health Scotland: Two years on scorecard shows Scottish Government has made good progress but Professor Steve Turner, the RCPCH’s Officer for Scotland, says that for the year of the young person to be regarded a true success, these policies must now translate into actual improvements in child health.
Progress outlined in the scorecard includes:
- The Scottish Government’s has published the Every child, every chance: tackling child poverty delivery plan, which outlines actions to reduce relative child poverty to less than 10% by 2030
- The Best Start Grant Pregnancy and Baby Payment Scotland was implemented in December 2018, which provides lower-income families with financial support during the child’s early years of life - £600 on the birth of their first child and £300 on the birth of subsequent children.
- The Scottish Government's has committed to implementing Best Start Foods by Summer 2019 – digital smartcard vouchers to encourage low income families to eat healthily.
- The Scottish Government committed to halving childhood obesity by 2030 and later published consultations and plans outlining ways in which this can be achieved.
- Through the recruitment of 500 additional health visitors promised by Scottish Government, they will be able to offer healthy eating and exercise advice to more families.
- There are consultations on restricting the in-store promotion and marketing of food high in fat, sugar or salt and for addressing portion sizes and information for consumers.
- Scottish Government published Better Mental Health in Scotland delivery plan in December 2018 complementing the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Taskforce Delivery Plan published the same day, highlighting the momentum for change in children and young people’s mental health services.
- Scottish Government committed an extra £250 million a year to improve mental health services including: providing school nurses and counsellors in secondary schools, colleges and universities; supporting expectant and new mothers; and providing mental health training for teachers.
- There is a £60 million investment in school counselling services and recruitment of an additional 250 school nurses by 2022.
Professor Steve Turner, Officer for Scotland for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said:
Scotland currently has some of the worst outcomes for child health in Europe, but as our scorecard shows, the Government is working hard to turn this around. However, the Government strategy now needs to turn to action.
The gap in health outcomes between the richest and poorest communities in Scotland is widening, and that has a detrimental effect on rates of childhood obesity, mental health and mortality, particularly for Scotland’s most vulnerable families. Without timely and effected change, many more of Scotland’s youngsters will join the 230,000 children already living in poverty and their health will undoubtedly suffer as a result.
Despite the Government making progress towards the introduction of a Child Death Review Process for Scotland, there continues to be preventable deaths and this is a major concern for the College.
Professor Turner said:
In 2019 approximately 100 children will die from preventable causes in Scotland. Unlike England and Wales, we do not have a system to learn from these tragedies.
As a priority, we need to identify why these deaths occur and to take action. Despite Scottish Government recommending a Scotland-wide child death review process to be implemented over four years ago, we are yet to see this preventative action actually established. I call on the government to bring Scotland in line with England and Wales and establish the Child Death Review Process as soon as possible.
The scorecard also reveals setbacks in several other areas, including:
- There has been no movement on funding mandatory child health training for GPs (around a quarter of a GP’s patients are under 19 but most GPs have no formal post-graduate child health training).
- There has been no movement on providing every child and young person with a long-term condition with a named doctor or health professional – crucial for continuity of care.
- There is a failure to extend bans on smoking in public places to school grounds and all sports fields and playgrounds.
- Just as England has, the Scottish Government should introduce a statutory requirement for all schools to deliver comprehensive, evidence based, sex and relationships education across all primary and secondary schools.