Operations on children and young people are being cancelled in huge numbers as NHS staff shortages bite, Labour reveals today.
More than 12,000 procedures – including for broken bones and treatments under anaesthetic – were scrapped last year, a rise of 35 per cent in just three years, the party said.
A lack of available anaesthetists, surgeons, consultants or theatre staff, as well as bed shortages and a lack of theatre time, were key reasons given by health bodies for the cancellations.
Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, vowed his party would make child health “a national priority” – in stark contrast to the “shameful” picture revealed by its freedom of information requests.
He said Labour’s investigation had also revealed:
- A loss of 10 per cent of school nurses, 11 per cent of health visitors and 12 per cent of district nurses, in the past two years.
- One in five paediatric trainee positions are currently vacant, even though trainees themselves report “high levels of enthusiasm for the speciality”.
- A 33 per cent rise in the number of young people arriving at A&E with mental health problems, over three years.
- Lower vaccination coverage in England, at one, two and five years of age, than in the other nations of the UK.
Mr Ashworth said: “The shameful picture of child health in England is terrifyingly real and should be receiving urgent attention from all who are concerned about the future health and wellbeing of our country.
“We can point to nearly any element of children’s health, from immunisation, to child and adolescent mental health, to childhood injury and childhood obesity.
“In all those areas we find examples of good practice, but the overall picture reflects social inequality and failure, sometimes on a massive scale.”
On immunisation rates he added: “Children in England are not being protected as well as children in the rest of the UK.”
Speaking to the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Mr Ashworth will announce a “child health forum to work with experts and patients” on a new strategy.
Over the next year, Labour would stage a series of workshops to “draw together the evidence and expertise in the field of child health”, he will say.
Labour’s research had uncovered 12,349 cancellations of surgical procedures planned for children and young people in 2016-17, across 76 health trusts, Mr Ashworth said.
This was 35 per cent higher than in 2013-14, when 9,128 cancellations were recorded, he said.
The total number of cancelled children’s operations since 2013-14 was 46,211 – with by far the highest number in London at 12,904.
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