William Eichler 04 March 2020

Public health cuts ‘stall’ progress in children’s health

A study into the health of the UK’s children and young people has warned that progress in children’s health and wellbeing has ‘stalled or is in reverse’ partly because of cuts to local authority budgets.

The State of Child Health 2020, the largest ever compilation of data on the health of babies, children and young people across all four UK nations, shows that the UK is behind many other developed countries when it comes to the health of children.

Published by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), the report found a total of 4.1 million children live in relative poverty in the UK – an increase of 500,000 between 2011-12 and 2016-17.

From 2016/17 to 2017/18, the numbers in England rose from 30% to 31% of children and in Wales from 28% to 29%. Child poverty in Scotland plateaued at 24% and in Northern Ireland decreased from 26% to 24%.

The UK is fifth from bottom among 27 European countries for infant mortality, which stalled in England between 2013 and 2018 at 3.9 per 1,000 livebirths, with a slight rise in 2017 to 4.0.

In England and Wales infant mortality is more than twice as high in the most deprived areas compared with the least deprived areas.

The prevalence of children aged 4-5 who are overweight or obese has not improved significantly in any of the four countries since 2006-7, the study learnt.

Trends among 4-5 year olds are stable across the UK with around 25% of children overweight but this increases to around 34% for 10-11 year olds in England. Childhood obesity is more prevalent in deprived areas.

In 2018, all four UK nations fell short of the 95% World Health Organisation (WHO) target for the second dose of MMR.

While rates of physical violence among young people are similar across the four nations, England is the only country in which rates are increasing – most notably for 20-24 year olds.

Between 2012 and 2017, the rate of physical violence among that age group increased from 297.7 to 315.49 per 100,000.

The UK has among the highest mortality rates in Europe for children and young people with the underlying cause of asthma, according to the RCPCH.

There has been continued improvement in blood glucose control among children and young people with Type 1 diabetes across all four nations.

‘Investment in preventative health services must now be prioritised by the new UK Government,’ said community paediatrician and co-author of the report Dr Rakhee Shah.

‘England has seen a huge decline in spending on local services and I see the results of that every day of my working life especially for my most disadvantaged patients.

‘The cuts to services also have an impact on our NHS – people have fewer places to go to get advice, support, and stay well.’

A recent study found that life expectancy has stopped improving for the first time in more than 100 years, and has actually declined for England’s poorest women.

Published by the Institute of Health Equity, Health Equity in England: The Marmot Review 10 Years On also revealed that the more deprived the area, the shorter the life expectancy for people.

A Local Government Association (LGA) spokesperson said the RCPCH report 'reinforces' their call for long-term investment in councils’ public health and early intervention services.

Councils’ public health budgets have been reduced by £700m between 2015 and 2020.

‘Councils know their communities best and are committed to improving their health,’ they said.

‘Through their services, councils help people live longer and in greater health, in better conditions while improving their emotional, mental and physical wellbeing.

‘We have long argued that previous reductions to the public health grant have been a false economy, which only compound acute pressures for NHS and social care services further down the line.’

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