The UK needs to train many more children’s nurses if it is to reverse the “worrying” state of child health, according to a leading academic and expert in paediatric nursing.
Professor Judith Ellis, who recently became chief executive of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, told Nursing Times there needed to be greater investment in paediatricians and nurses.
“One in five child deaths in the UK is preventable,” she said in an interview with Nursing Times. “The UK now has the worst child mortality rate in Western Europe, which is just not acceptable. It is a worrying picture.
“We need to invest long-term in the training of paediatricians, 50% more maybe and of course children’s nurses,” said Professor Ellis.
In particular, she highlighted the need to commission more posts based in the community. “In the community, good children’s nurses are phenomenal but the commissions for that group are minute,” she warned.
“Children’s community nursing is a very small group. The people we have are extremely good, but you have to have enough people with the right training and expertise,” she said.
As a result, Professor Ellis advised trusts that were considering centralising paediatric departments that they needed to also invest in community services.
The danger was that trusts would press ahead with closures without enhancing community paediatric services, she said, adding: “You can’t just close a unit and not have a plan for how you keep children safe.
“We get worried that decisions are taken that aren’t thought through fully,” she said. “Every time a trust considers doing this, someone should be saying is this right for children.”
Professor Ellis said the college supported a vision of enhanced paediatric community services, with rapid access clinics and support available to GPs and other services with paediatricians and children’s nurses “co-located” out in the community.
“In the community, good children’s nurses are phenomenal but the commissions for that group are minute”
Similar ideas were promoted recently in the five-year plan for the NHS in England, which was published in October.
Professor Ellis also warned there was a risk that children’s health services might suffer with the focus on elderly care following the Francis report. She warned of a wider impact on society if children’s health was neglected.
Professor Ellis joined the college in September, becoming its first chief executive from a nursing background. Previous incumbents have all been doctors.
Prior to joining the college, she was executive dean of the Faculty of Health and Social Care at London South Bank University.
She also served on the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s ruling council from 2009-12, acting as its interim chair for six months in 2012.