Children, poverty and health

 

Sir, – The recent report from the Growing Up in Ireland Study does indeed paint a relatively positive picture of life for the current cohort of nine-year-old children who have been regularly tracked in this invaluable, longitudinal study of children (“Growing Up in Ireland: what we’ve learned from a decade of research”, Health, November 7th).

However, the letter from a group of GPs (November 16th) is a sharp reminder of the report’s findings on the impact of poverty on the health of children and the significant gap that exists between the health status of children in the highest and lowest income groups.

Furthermore, the health disadvantages reflecting the impact of poverty are long waiting times for access to community-based interventions to address children’s health needs and the lengthy waiting lists for hospital outpatient and inpatient services in a range of areas, including mental health, obesity, ophthalmology and others. Such delays are a cause of avoidable distress and suffering to children, may have a long-term impact on their development, and are a source of worry and concern for parents.

As a voluntary organisation which promotes the wellbeing of children in the healthcare system, particularly before, during and after hospitalisation, Children in Hospital Ireland is keenly aware of the real difficulties encountered by parents of sick children, of the additional financial and other demands which a child’s illness places on parents and families, and of the stress caused when access to services for a child is delayed.

There are instances where parents resort to private consultations for their children out of fear that by the time their child gets an appointment in the public system they may no longer be eligible for children’s services such as the community-based Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. This may drive a family further into poverty and debt and place increasing pressures on all members of the family.

The Government’s policy document, First 5: A Whole-of-Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families, published on November 19th, includes commitments to develop a dedicated child-health workforce, focussed initially on areas of high disadvantage, and also new measures to address poverty in early childhood. These proposals are, of course, welcome but will only have an impact if adequately resourced and if they are implemented as part of much more far-reaching reforms not just in the healthcare system but in the areas of housing and income adequacy. – Yours, etc,

ANNA GUNNING,

Chief Executive,

Children in Hospital Ireland,

Burton Hall Road,

Suite 113,

Sandyford,

Dublin 18.