New NHS plans fail to focus on children's health needs, leading doctors warn

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Leading children's doctors have hit out at plans aimed at transforming the NHS in England, claiming they do not prioritise the health of youngsters.

Sustainability and transformation plans (STPs) have been created in 44 regions in a bid to revolutionise services while saving money in the face of an expected £900 million NHS deficit this year.

But the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) said a lack of focus on the health and wellbeing of children in the majority of STPs is a "major cause for concern".

The college conducted analysis of the 44 plans and concluded that the majority contain "little mention" of the health needs of children, except in relation to mental health services.

A new RCPCH report also said the plans do not demonstrate an appreciation of the life-long impact of poor health in childhood.

It criticised the authors for having "limited" engagement with paediatricians.

The STPs do not make clear how workforce shortages in children's health services will be addressed, the college said.

"We're disappointed at the lack of focus on the health and wellbeing needs of infants, children and young people," said RCPCH president Professor Neena Modi.

"It is short sighted and a major cause for concern that they appear to have been forgotten.

"Investing in child health is a hallmark of a mature society committed to securing the wellbeing of future generations. As a healthy child grows into a healthy adult, able to contribute to the economic productivity of the nation, such investment also makes strong financial sense.

"We've found a real lack of clarity around strategic direction, oversight, accountability and responsibility for STP as they evolve. Furthermore, it is highly unlikely that STP, or any new models of care, will be successful given the substantial workforce shortages and major funding constraints that the NHS is currently experiencing."

An NHS England spokeswoman said: "An alternative approach to just issuing more reports would be for the RCPCH to follow the successful example of leading medical bodies by engaging with the frontline doctors, hospitals and patients groups whose local NHS improvement plans these are."

Meanwhile, a separate report from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) warned that cuts to services in England are putting children's health at risk.

The report said there has been a significant drop of more than 1,000 in the number of health visitors since 2015.

The number of full-time school nurses fell by 16% between 2010 and 2017, coupled with a rise in the number of school-age pupils of 450,000.

The RCN, which is holding its annual congress in Liverpool, said health visitors and school nurses play an essential role in promoting healthy mental and physical development as well as safeguarding vulnerable children.

"Cuts to these critical services risk not only the health of our children, but also the future of our country," said RCN chief executive and general secretary Janet Davies.

"There's a wealth of evidence that ill health in childhood can have a detrimental impact in adulthood.

"If these cuts continue, we're heading for more health problems, more inequality and even more pressure on our public services down the line.

"With strong children's public health services, we'd have the opportunity to give every child a strong start in life, improving the nation's overall health and building a more equal, just society.

"The next government needs to secure these services and thus secure the progress made over the past 10 years."