Councils across England were urged to take “bold and brave” decisions to improve children’s health as the Government published statistics showing the link between breastfeeding rates and hospital admissions for youngsters.
Health minister Dan Poulter has written to councils urging them to sign a pledge to help bring down child death rates, which he warned were “among the worst in Europe”.
The move came as the Department of Health called for councils to do take action to address the variation in breastfeeding rates around the country through steps such as setting up support groups for mothers.
Mr Poulter’s letter, which is also signed by experts including Hilary Cass, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and Duncan Selbie, the chief executive of Public Health England, said: “Bold and brave decisions will be needed if we are to give children, young people and families the services they deserve.”
The letter was sent to councillors responsible for children’s services and the chairmen of local health and wellbeing boards.
It said: “You will be as shocked as we are that childhood mortality in this country is among the worst in Europe. You will also want to know how poor many outcomes are for children and young people with long-term physical and mental conditions as well as those who are acutely sick.”
With responsibility for public health passed from the NHS to local authorities in April this year, the letter said councils and health and wellbeing boards were “in a prime position to tackle the poor health outcomes experienced by children and young people”.
The document continued: “If all local areas were as good as the best, together we could improve children and young people’s quality of life now, and their ability to live fulfilling lives as they move through childhood.”
Dr Poulter said: “The government is leading the agenda to improve the health of children and reduce the unacceptable variations in children and young people’s health that we have seen in the past in this country.
“We have come together to write this letter because children’s health is an issue we want right at the top of the agenda, not just for the NHS, but also for local councils who play such an important role in giving each and every child the very best start in life.
“We have already asked everyone who touches the lives of children to pledge to do everything possible to improve children’s health, and great strides have already been made.
“But with the public health money sent to them by the government, it is local authorities who play a vital role in making the local changes that can make the biggest difference. That is why we have written to them all, urging them to sign the pledge. There is a lot of good work going on out there but I want all local areas to be as good as the best.”
Meanwhile the Department of Health (DH) was publishing data that shows the link between breastfeeding rates in different areas and hospital admissions for children.
A source said: “Breastfeeding provides all the nutrition a baby needs and also helps protect babies from infections. It has huge health benefits, and helps promote a strong bond between mum and baby.
“The variation in breastfeeding rates means children are more likely to end up in hospital for a wide variety of conditions, from eczema to gastroenteritis and asthma, and we want local authorities to use the data released today to identify where they can work with the local NHS to take action.”
The DH said councils could support women to breastfeed at local children’s centres by making sure staff are knowledgeable and have the right information.
Officials suggested that local authorities could work with the NHS to set up “peer support groups” where mothers could chat to each other and share advice.
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