Doctors demand urgent action over child health crisis
Children's doctors have urged politicians take action to address poor levels of child health across Northern Ireland.
In an open letter to the Government published today in the Belfast Telegraph, medical and charity leaders call on political parties to make young people's mental and physical health a priority ahead of next year's election.
The hard-hitting letter penned by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) is endorsed and signed by 14 experts from across medical organisations and charities in Northern Ireland.
Six months ahead of the election, they want all parties to put a particular focus on "reducing avoidable child deaths".
The letter says: "Despite having one of the best healthcare systems in the world, child health is not as good as it should be".
It also highlights that Northern Ireland has the highest infant mortality rate in the UK, and over a fifth of children live in poverty.
And it adds that many of the causes are linked to deprivation, including poor mental health, suicides and self-harm
The RCPCH says the next Government has to be "bold" and introduce a series of policies to help reduce inequalities.
To address the problems, they call for the redesigning of children's hospital and community services to ensure youngsters see the right person at the right time, more investment in weight management services, a ban on smoking in cars when children are present and minimum pricing for alcohol.
Among the supporters are the Ulster Paediatric Society, the charity Tiny Life, the Royal College of General Practitioners NI, MindWise, the Children's Heartbeat Trust and the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
It comes as the RCPCH launches its manifesto for child health, called Securing Better Health for Northern Ireland's Infants, Children and Young People: A Vision for 2016. In the document, the body calls for a graduated driving licensing scheme to reduce road traffic accidents and the commissioning of a regular survey to identify the prevalence of mental health issues among children.
It also wants targeted breastfeeding support and education and the introduction of routine carbon monoxide screening during pregnancy care.
Dr Karl McKeever, chair of the RCPCH's Northern Ireland Committee, said poverty had a "detrimental impact" on many aspects of a child's life.
"It can affect a child's weight, their mental health and can be linked to early death," he added.
"With over 110,000 children living in poverty in Northern Ireland, many of these factors are already blighting our nation.
"When it comes to our nation's mental health, the outlook isn't much better. Suicide rates have been steadily increasing over the past 10 years.
"Real change will not happen without political will. There must be cross-party support for healthcare reform and the design of a healthcare system where patients are seen by the right professional at the right time, and that puts the safety of patients at its core."