Children 'failed on grand scale'

Woman with two children generic The UK is ranked 16th in the United Nations child wellbeing index

Children in the UK are being failed on a "grand scale" when it comes to their health and well-being, according to the British Medical Association.

The BMA acknowledged death during childhood was rare and living standards high.

But it said that masked a number of underlying problems with the way illnesses were managed and health and well-being promoted.

And it warned cuts to social care and welfare could make the problems worse.

The BMA's report, Growing Up in the UK, highlighted issues such as obesity and foetal alcohol syndrome (babies who are born with disabilities due to the mother's drinking) as public health problems about which little was being done.

It also said there were problems with how the most common childhood diseases were dealt with.

For example, just 3% of children with asthma have their own care plans, which are deemed essential in allowing patients and their parents to keep the conditions under control.

It also said the UK had higher rates of child mortality than other developed countries - equating to 1,600 excess deaths a year.

Austerity

The report, produced by the BMA's board of science, also pointed to research that suggested one in 10 children was unhappy.

Overall, the UK is ranked 16th in the United Nations league table of well-being - that is below the likes of Slovenia, Portugal and the Czech Republic.

Failing children?

  • The UK is ranked 16th in the United Nations child well-being index
  • More than a fifth of children starting primary school are obese or overweight
  • One in 10 children say they are unhappy
  • Last year the highest number of children ever recorded were referred to local authority care
  • A quarter of children live in step-families or single-parent households, among the highest levels in western Europe
  • There are 1,600 excess childhood deaths in the UK compared with other developed countries
  • Only 3% of children with asthma have written plans to help them and their families manage their condition
  • Fewer than 5% of children with diabetes received care consistent with guidelines

The index takes into account factors such as health and safety, education and housing.

Prof Averil Mansfield, chair of the BMA's board of science, said: "Children should not pay the price for the economic downturn.

"While there has been some progress, I still find it shocking that for a society that considers itself to be child-friendly, that we consistently underperform in international ratings."

The BMA said it believed intervention programmes held the key, pointing to research which suggested for every £1 spent on programmes aimed at children and families, £10 was saved in the long-term.

The report mentioned parenting classes, improving maternal nutrition and targeting children born in households with unhealthy habits, such as smoking, drug use and alcohol abuse.

Prof Sir Al Aynsley-Green, the former children's tsar for England, who has given his backing to the report, added: "In 2013 we are currently experiencing the most challenging era for children, young people and their health for the last 30 years."

But a government spokeswoman said: "There's a lot of misleading stories about the effects of our tax and benefit changes.

"The truth is, our welfare reforms will improve the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities.

"Every child should have the same opportunity to lead a healthy life, no matter where they live or who they are. Working with a broad range of organisations, we have pledged to do everything possible to improve children's health."

Nick Triggle Article written by Nick Triggle Nick Triggle Health correspondent

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