Children in England are more likely to die in infancy than their European counterparts and are set to be left further behind on a range of health measures unless the government and NHS act now, a major report warns.
Infant mortality is nearly a third higher in England than the average of the EU15+ countries – EU member states prior to 2004 plus Australia, Canada and Norway.
This means four children in every 1,000 born in England did not live to see their first birthday, while the EU average was around 2.8 per 1,000 births in 2015.
But a major report by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) published on Monday warns infant deaths actually began increasing in 2015 and 2016 and, unless corrected, infant mortality rates will be 140 per cent higher in England by 2030.
Mental health problems among young people are set to rise by 60 per cent in the same period and 30 per cent of boys in England will be severely obese.
Poverty “lies at the root” of many of these ill health indicators and infant mortality increases were more pronounced in more deprived areas. This is one of the major areas of concern identified by the RCPCH, particularly with regard to mental health and nutrition.
The report’s author, RCPCH president professor Russell Viner, said: “Child poverty is predicted to increase by up to 40 per cent over the next decade, which, if true, may make our predictions underestimates of the degree to which the UK will fall behind other wealthy countries.
“This report clearly identifies the danger on the horizon – but trends shown here are not inevitable. Each of them could be turned around if key actions are undertaken.”
The report identifies actions like the Childhood Obesity Plan and national diabetes strategy, which have helped to draw attention to the issue and start to drive improvements.
With the NHS in England currently drawing up a 10-year strategic plan, which will include provision for spending the £20bn budget increase by 2023 pledged by Theresa May, now is the time to close these gaps, Professor Viner says.
Among recommendations for the plan are increasing access to specialist weight management services for obese children, investment in school nursing and home health visiting, and targeted support to tackle smoking during pregnancy.
“After 100 years of decline, the rise in infant mortality in England in recent years is really concerning and a clear sign that urgent action must be taken now if we are to see improvements to children’s health in the future,” said Dr Gary Wannan, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and member of the British Medical Association consultants committee.
“We can no longer regard ourselves as one of the leading healthcare providers in Europe, and indeed across the world, if we lag behind so significantly in provision for young people.
“This report should be a serious call to action for the government, who must begin working to avert these worrying predictions.”
Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the Nuffield Trust health policy think tank warned that “for far too long, children and young people’s health has been absent from policy wish lists”.
“Today’s warnings from the RCPCH should set alarm bells ringing for anyone who cares about the future of some of the youngest and most vulnerable members of society.”
NHS England was approached for comment.
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