After 32 years as a paediatric nurse committed to improving healthcare for our young people, it was concerning last year to read in the Why Children Die report, by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and National Children’s Bureau, that the UK has one of the worst child mortality rates in western Europe.
The annual death rate for UK children is 2,000 higher than in Sweden, which has the lowest rate of child mortality - and many of these deaths are preventable.
I have always been proud to be a paediatric nurse, trusted by young people and parents to deliver care that meets not only their physical but also psychological needs. But what I have learnt in my career is that the only way to improve quality of healthcare and outcomes for any patient group is to work with others who feel just as passionate about improvement and success.
Money may be tight and resources under pressure, but much can be achieved through knowledge, commitment and partnership working. I have had the honour to witness a total understanding that good paediatric care requires a truly multiprofessional team. Children care little for the title or qualifications of the professional in front of them. It is good and kind care through a true partnership approach, and mutual respect from all members of the caring team that matters.
But partnership and professional commitment will never be enough. Politicians must recognise that the health and welfare of our children is fundamental to the future of our nation. Improving health outcomes for children is not just about fighting for resources - including educated professionals - to care for sick children. It also relies on tackling poverty and social inequality, and promoting healthy living.
Someone has to stand up for a healthier future for our children and young people. As the ageing population makes ever greater demands on the NHS, those in charge of the resources mustn’t overlook the need to invest in prevention - and in child health and paediatrics.
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health is in a unique position to lead the way in child health: its clinical members are multiprofessional in their approach and beliefs, and also have the powerful voice of a royal college.
Being chief executive officer for such an organisation is an honour, and in a way feels like a natural cumulation of my career. Although recognised for my paediatric nursing background, it is my experience and knowledge gained as a civil servant, NHS executive manager, chair of a regulator, educator, dean and researcher that I envisage will now all come together.
The college must continue to educate and support clinicians. But it also recognises the need for high-quality education of all who come into contact with children, so that appropriate care is immediately accessible and teams work effectively in partnership with children and families.
I hope I can help to achieve this goal and support the college as it aims to strengthen the voices of children and young people so that they are at the forefront of every political decision that affects child health.
By working with partner organisations, the college can play a leading role in improving child health outcomes - whether through research, working more effectively across professional silos and driving policy change.
We have one of the best health systems in the world but, if we’re to do the very best for child health and ensure we’re not at the bottom of the pile when it comes to childhood mortality rates in Europe, we have to realise that we’re more effective when working together.
Judith Ellis is chief executive officer at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health