Westminster urged to look to Wales as nation puts child health first

Children’s doctors are praising the Welsh Government for its commitment to child health, but warns promises ‘must be delivered’, as a new scorecard, published today by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), reveals Wales is well ahead of Westminster in terms of progress against its recommendations.

In the ‘State of Child Health – Wales: One Year On’ report card, the RCPCH praises the Welsh Government for making commitments in relation to breastfeeding, obesity and protecting children from tobacco, but warns they must guard against complacency as poverty continues to blight the lives of thousands of Welsh children.

Today’s scorecard, which marks a year since the launch of the RCPCH’s landmark ‘State of Child Health’ report – a report which provided a snapshot of how the UK’s children are faring when it comes to their health and wellbeing – looks at progress made against the recommendations within it.

What commitments have been made

Our scorecards finds commitments had been made on:

  • Passing of the Public Health (Wales) Act, an important achievement that will help protect children and young people from the serious harms caused by tobacco.
  • A strategy is in development to tackle obesity which will include children
  • Legislation to introduce a much-needed minimum unit price for alcohol is at scrutiny stage
  • A Parliamentary Review has led to a national conversation about the future of health and social care services
  • A task and finish group is working on proposals to increase the worryingly low rate of breastfeeding
  • Curriculum reform provides real opportunity to improve health and wellbeing and sex and healthy relationship education, as young people consistently say they need.

RCPCH’s Officer for Wales, Dr Mair Parry, said:

"Welsh Government has recognised that an investment in child health now is an investment for the future. It has made commitments in many areas and that must be applauded – but of course it’s crucial that these promises are delivered.

"The delivery of the Public Health Wales Act is an excellent example of good legislation specifically around smoking. By enforcing smoking bans on hospital grounds and in play areas, the number of children exposed to tobacco will reduce significantly and that will do wonders for child health.

"However, we remain concerned about worrying high poverty levels and the impact this has on child health, so reducing health inequalities must be a focus of Government policy.

"Poverty affects every aspect of a child’s life, from education and employment prospects to increasing the likelihood of obesity, mental health issues and battling alcohol dependency. Welsh Government have outlined how they hope to tackle this in its Child Poverty Strategy, - but making inroads will take time. With 200,000 children living in poverty, we cannot afford to wait much longer.

"If we get this right, we will enhance the lives of thousands of children, create a fairer and healthier, more productive society and we can ensure Wales is seen as a place where children can thrive."

What needs more work

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

  • Management of long term conditions: No movement on providing every child and young person with a long-term condition with a named doctor or health professional.
  • Transition services: little has been done to improve transition from child to adult services.
  • Poverty reduction: the provision of good quality, safe and effective prevention in primary care for children of all ages, in order to mediate the adverse health effects of poverty.

Dr Parry states:

"We have long stressed the importance of investing in child health and prevention in order to reap long terms benefits for the wider population. We were therefore disappointed to hear that Welsh Government would not publish a Child Health Plan, but agree that rolling it into a broader health and social care strategy is a sensible approach, providing children get the attention they deserve."

The scorecards, which have been produced for Scotland, Wales and England show that comparatively, both the devolved nations are performing well and are outperforming Westminster. For Scotland, policy commitments relating to childhood obesity, breastfeeding, women’s health during pregnancy and child poverty have been achieved. For England, public health cuts are proving to be a particular area of concern while some progress has been made in relation to smoking and obesity with the publication of a New Tobacco Control Plan and the implementation of the sugar tax.

Dr Parry continues:

"Government leaders elsewhere must look to Wales and learn from the bold steps being made in relation to child health. I look forward to seeing Welsh Government turn these commitments into policy, but also look forward to working with them to ensure long term conditions are managed and transition to adult health services improve. Once that has been achieved we will truly be leading the way in child health."