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'Greater focus on child health needed'

Drastic changes are needed to improve health care for children and young people, a new report has claimed. 

Although there has been progress since last year, the first annual report from the Children and Young People's Health Outcomes Forum has shown that if child death rates in the UK improved to the levels of Sweden then up to five deaths a day could be prevented. 

By investing in early intervention, the pressure on the health service would be reduced in the longer term, the group has said. 

The report calls for a cross-system approach, joining up government, the whole health service, social care and education professionals to improve care for young people.

The group has called for: 

 - A stronger voice for children: all healthcare organisations need to listen to children and young people. Clinicians and the health sector should do more to take children's comments on board to improve the services they use.

 - Better training: all people who work with children and young people must be appropriately trained and have the right skills, attitudes and behaviours.

 - Better data: there is a need for more data to make sure that progress can be properly measured and regional variation improved.

 - More integration between children's health and social care.

 - A bigger role for schools: schools need a greater focus on public health and early intervention and prevention.

 - A new strategy on children's mental health services: to reduce the gap between physical and mental health services for children.

 - Updating the NHS constitution to make it more relevant to children and their families - tailoring the NHS constitution towards children will allow families to know what their entitlements are and give them an even stronger voice.

Christine Lenehan, co-chair of the Children and Young People's Health Outcome Forum said: "We want to see our system among the best in the world, and make sure we reduce the number of children who are needlessly dying.

"There needs to be a greater focus on public health and early intervention and prevention, with a raised profile of role that schools can and should play. The Forum is concerned that children's mental health services are becoming disjointed to the point that children are falling through the gaps. "More investment is urgently needed and we expect the NHS to make sure that the parity of esteem element of the NHS Mandate is being followed through."

'Let down'

Maternity and Child Health Minister, Dr Dan Poulter said: "As a result of our investment in children we have seen a 23% rise in the number of health visitors and we have also invested £54 million in mental health support for young people. We are also investing in training so that NHS staff have even stronger paediatric skills. There is much more to do and we want the NHS to go even faster to improve care for children and young people."

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Children and young people in the UK still have poorer health outcomes than their peers in northern and western European countries and there is also considerable variation in health outcomes around the UK. Too many children and young people are being let down.

“Inaction is not an option. There is a clear imperative to improve heath care provision for children and young people, otherwise we are just storing up massive health problems for the future.

“Improved planning, more integrated working, and sufficient investment in the right nursing staff and services will go a long way towards ensuring better health outcomes for future generations.

Children and young people represent 22% of the population and typically, pre-school children see their GP six times a year. 

The quality of care they receive in general practice can have significant implications for attendance and admissions in urgent and emergency care and in shaping attitudes to healthy behaviour and healthcare services for the rest of a child's life. 

Health Education England will also appoint a national clinical lead for maternity, children and young people's health to make sure that there is a strong focus on children's needs when training the next generation of NHS staff.

The Forum's focus this year will be on taking forward its work programme, which is aligned to its challenges to the health and care system.