What we are doing to improve child health and make the NHS a great place to work

Simon introduces himself and his priorities as your new VP for Policy. He highlights College work, including the State of Child Health report update and new resources for better patient data, and reflects on paediatrics as a remarkable career.

Welcome to my first blog as Vice President for Policy. I hope there will be many more opportunities to share the work that the team and I are doing to improve children’s health and make the NHS a great place for members to work.

Firstly, thank you to everyone who voted for me to take up this position. I’m enjoying the experience so far and have been kept busy getting to grips with the varied aspects of policy work. I wanted to use this blog post to share a little about myself so that everyone - including those who didn’t vote (for me) or simply chose my name out of impulse - knows what they can expect from me as their VP for Policy over the coming years.

I learnt two things: that paediatrics was for me, and that district generals are what holds the NHS together

I wasn’t a model student at Southampton University Medical School. However, by the fifth year I was inspired by a registrar at Basingstoke Hospital who spent time teaching me how to correctly take a history. There I learnt two things: that paediatrics was for me, and that district generals are what holds the NHS together. 

After qualifying I spent time working in Southampton and Birmingham before working in the Mersey rotation, including two years researching neonatal medicine. I was shocked to be offered my first consultant job at Sheffield, having arrived late and somewhat distracted during the interview. The day before my mother was admitted to hospital with sepsis, and immediately after the interview I returned to her bedside in the emergency room. Amidst the chaos, I forgot to tell my wife I got the job.

I’ve been a neonatal consultant in Sheffield since 2013 and became training programme director for South Yorkshire where I managed the modernising medical careers programme before becoming Head of School in Yorkshire and Humber until 2014. It was the same year that I was appointed as RCPCH Workforce Officer, a role that has supplemented my clinical lead role in my neonatal unit and chairing role of a regional group that aims to develop large numbers of advanced clinical practitioners, across all specialties, to deal with the gaps in the primary and secondary care workforce. As well as working with brilliant NHS staff, the dedicated team at the College are keeping me calm, and I’m looking forward to sharing our activity with you.

Without the right data to underpin our policy asks, children and their health needs remain largely invisible

The State of Child Health report is being updated. This landmark report, initiated by Russell in 2017, uses data to compare child health outcomes across the UK. We are re-visiting this with a fresh approach to put pressure on policy makers to make needed improvements in critical areas, such as staffing, injury prevention, mental and sexual health, mortality, obesity and common long term conditions. Many of these issues are highly complex and without the right data to underpin our policy asks, children and their health needs remain largely invisible.

We’re supporting members to develop SNOMED-CT codes, which allow clinicians to accurately record patient data at the point of care so that children are counted and visible. We are also responding to our members concerns around caring for children with perplexing presentations and will be publishing updated guidance later this year.

Paediatric Care Online is maturing nicely, a great resource that houses the BNFC (British National Formulary for Children), the ‘green book’ for immunisations and comprehensive key practice points on a range of signs and symptoms, with red flags to look for. It is also home to the Child Protection Companion, your essential safeguarding resource, which is a focus of continual policy and evidence updates, and is supported by a growing range of child protection resources available on this website. We are exploring how to roll out this continually expanding resource to the broader child health workforce. 

For the first time, there is a long term health plan in each of the nations and it is pleasing to see the profile of children growing at national level. Call me simple, but for reforms to be effective, we need to start and finish with the workforce. You can have any policy, belief system, financial flows and health care structure, but without enough well trained and valued staff it will all be for nought. 

So, we are keeping the pressure on to increase the number of paediatricians in the UK as well as efforts to retain them. We’re challenging arguments that national demographics and increased technology will require reduced numbers of paediatricians. Apart from immunisations and antibiotics, I am struggling to think of a technology that has reduced the need for staffing. New scanners mean more diagnoses that need treatment. The invention of ventilators has led to huge staff increases, as intensive care, longer operations and home ventilation have developed.

I shall finish on two important elements. Firstly, national standards. Our Facing the Future standards are not an aspiration; they are the minimum requirement for what every child in the UK deserves. Well children spend more time in education and are more likely to turn into healthy adults with improved employment prospects, from which they will make enhanced tax contributions that goes into funding our national health system. This should attract Government focus as a brilliant return on investment, and I urge you to hold the line on this as reorganisation of health services progresses in order to implement the ambitions of each Government’s health plans.

So, value and cherish yourself and each other

And lastly, thanks to you for being a paediatrician. Every day (and night and weekend) you go to work, do what you can with the resources you have, within the time available, and that is on top of dealing with all that modern life throws at us. So, value and cherish yourself and each other. That medical student or foundation doctor you spend an extra five minutes with at lunch, or the end of your shift, may become a future paediatrician. It is a remarkable career and I have met some amazing families and children, many of whom I would like to thank for being a source of inspiration about how to cope in difficult, tragic, terrifying times and for making my life richer. I have got great colleagues who look after me and support my VP role, to whom I am enormously grateful.