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Gaps in nurse training ‘main cause’ of poor child health

Lack of specific training for nurses and other clinicians is one of the main reasons for the UK’s poor track record on children’s health, a major new report has claimed.

The Children and Young People’s Health Outcomes Forum report, published last week, was drawn up by a group of independent experts at the request of the government.

It makes a series of recommendations to address concerns identified by the forum, including that many doctors and nurses have inadequate training on working with children and young people.

“Some have training only in adult healthcare while others do not have sufficient training in physical and mental health to be able to undertake their work with children and young people safely and well,” it states.

“This is one of most important reasons why children and young people’s health outcome are poor in so many areas.”

Among other problems highlighted by the report are patchy community nursing services across the country, with relatively few offering 24-7 cover and “inconsistent provision of school nursing”.

The forum said organisations like the Royal College of Nursing and medical royal colleges needed to work together to look at how best to develop the children and young people’s healthcare workforce.

It is especially important to ensure healthcare workers are trained to work with teenagers and young adults, as well as babies and young children, it said.

The report recognised the vital role of nurses in key areas like public health and supporting vulnerable youngsters.

It said increasing the number of midwifery students, an expansion of the health visitor workforce and schemes like the Family Nurse Partnership were crucial to improving the health of babies and young children over time.

Other schemes like the School Nurse Development Programme have the potential to “make real inroads” in supporting vulnerable children and young people, according to the report, which said all areas should also have a designated nurse or doctor for children in care.

Meanwhile, all GP practices should have a named nursing lead for children and young people, and all nurses and other staff working in doctors’ surgeries should get specific training.

The report highlighted the importance of good care during pregnancy and for new mothers, and said public health professionals and commissioners should work with maternity services to meet the needs of local families.

“The need for a stronger focus on maternal health in pregnancy has never been clearer,” it said.

Janet Davies, executive director of nursing and service delivery at the Royal College of Nursing, said: “We have said for some time that provision for children and young people is often not prioritised within the NHS and this report bears that out.

“It is vital that the government now acts on this report and ensures that the recommendations become reality as soon as possible,” she said. “Nurses with the right skills and experiences can play a hugely important role in ensuring children receive the best possible start in life.”

Cathy Warwick, general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, said she was “delighted” the forum had recognised the important role of high quality maternity care.

But she warned the benefits from an increased number of student midwives would only be realised if newly-qualified students went on to get jobs. “It is critical that this happens,” she said.

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