Child health needs are ignored, say experts

Reports condemn lack of co-ordinated care for the young and reveal disparities in treatment of severely injured children
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Ten top children's specialists accuse the Government today of ignoring the health needs of children and increasing the burden of disease in the future by their neglect.

Ten top children's specialists accuse the Government today of ignoring the health needs of children and increasing the burden of disease in the future by their neglect.

The experts, who include paediatricians, nurses and public health specialists, say the health of children and young people is vital to the future success of society but no one is speaking up for them at government level.

New-born babies, infants, children and adolescents are all at different stages of emotional, intellectual and physical development yet they are lumped together and treated as small adults, neglecting their specific needs. Only one in 10 health authorities has any policy on adolescent physical health.

The group, led by Al Aynsley-Green, professor of paediatrics at Great Ormond Street Hospital and president of the Association of Clinical Professors of Paediatrics, and David Hall, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics, say England is lagging behind Scotland and Wales, where children's services have become a top priority. In Scotland, a minister for children has been appointed.

They say an independent commissioner for children's services is needed in England to oversee a national strategy for children and young people's health. "The health of children determines the health of adults and much adult disease has its origins in childhood," Professor Aynsley-Green said.

Adolescents were a group that was particularly neglected yet that was the age when the problems of obesity, drug taking, smoking and suicide all began. Professor Aynsley-Green said: "There is only one physician specialising in adolescence in the whole of the UK."

The group, writing in the British Medical Journal, pay tribute to the Government's efforts to reduce poverty but criticise the introduction of initiatives without recognising that children and young people have specific needs. "In England, in spite of the UK Government's support for the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, there has been no national or governmental body or person specifically charged with protecting their rightsnor with assessing the impact on children of the policies emerging from individual ministries," they write.

Professor Aynsley-Green said: "There is no tsar for children. Is that because children cannot vote?"

The problem was highlighted by the lack of support for children with brain injuries from accidents. Only two centres in the country provide support for severely injured children, leaving the majority of families to cope as best they can at home.

Carol Minnikin, 52, from Throckley in Newcastle upon Tyne, has cared for her 13-year-old son Damian since he was in collision with a car in a cycling accident when he was nine. After surgery to save his life, in which the front left lobe of his brain was removed, he spent five months in hospital because there was nowhere else for him to go.

Ms Minnikin, a single mother who also has two grown-up children, said: "For six weeks no one knew if he would live or die. When he came round he had to learn everything again - he couldn't walk, he slowly got his voice back, he had to go through potty training again. It was very, very frustrating because no one knew what was happening. He shouldn't have been in hospital all that time."

Experts involved in Damian's case say he should have been receiving care from specialists in rehabilitation. Delays were also caused by wrangling between health and social services over the costs of his care.

Professor Aynsley-Green said: "Injured children are not recognised to need very specific total packages of care involving not only health but social services and education."

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