National health strategy needed for tamariki ‘right now’

Source: 1News

New Zealand’s public health system has had detrimental impacts on children and young people, according to a report from a collective representing seven charities which support them.

The Children and Young People Health and Disability Collective's findings, described as "very sobering", will be presented to ministers and relevant agencies.

Covering a multitude of areas from dental to mental health, the report sought to find better outcomes for Aotearoa's tamariki by highlighting areas where the country is falling behind.

One of the report's alarming statistics was that 20 per cent of children have an unmet need for primary health care due to costs and other factors and that this number is even greater for Māori and Pasifika youth.

The collective supports about 130,000 children and young people and their whānau each year.

It says children and young people are feeling the effects of neglect due to having no specific strategy or associated dedicated public funding for them for more than 23 years.

The health system is run by adults without ring-fenced resources for children, it says.

The collective says it is concerning the last comprehensive reform for children took place in 1998 and feel actions included in the Government's wellbeing framework and 2021 health system review won't be sufficient enough to achieve the change necessary.

The collective is calling for an "immediate" national health strategy for children and young people.

Starship Children's Hospital paediatrician professor Cameron Grant and Ronald McDonald House chief executive Wayne Howett, who are part of the collective, spoke to Breakfast about the report.

Grant said New Zealand's health system has some "real issues and challenges".

Child wearing face mask (file picture).

"Currently I don't think all the children in New Zealand receive the primary and secondary care that they need to keep them healthy."

With no funding or strategy in place, Grant said: "It's the children who have the greatest need that are the ones who are most likely to miss out if we don't have good structures and systems in place."

Howett described the situation as "very sobering" and said: "I think there needs to be action taken right now to address these alarming statistics."

With lockdown restrictions easing again, Grant said health professionals were "very concerned about the coming year".

He recalled the "big surge" in RSV cases earlier this year when the trans-Tasman bubble opened.

"We're very concerned that a similar thing could happen with influenza for example, which we currently don't protect our children against adequately and for a number of other respiratory infections that are likely to arrive here following the Northern Hemisphere winter."

Howett said: "I think we need to learn from what's happened during Covid.

"We've just got to start changing and continue on doing it until we're doing things a lot better."

To ensure a national health strategy for children and young people worked, there needed to be strong Māori leadership in the development of children's health initiatives, equity, whānau involvement, and input from tamariki.

Some of the collective's findings:

- 20 per cent of children have unmet need for primary healthcare due to costs

- 20 per cent have unfilled prescriptions due to cost

- 20 per cent of high school students were unable to see a health professional when needed in the previous 12 months. This is particularly true for those from low-income areas and for Māori and Pasifika youth.

- 40 per cent of children aged five have evidence of tooth decay

- 1 in 10 children will have a mental or physical disability

- 13 per cent of babies have mothers who smoke

- 24 per cent of high school students have a chronic health condition

- Up to one third of hospitalisations could be avoided if households had access to basic needs such as quality housing and fluoridated water

- Māori and Pasifika children living in high deprivation areas have the highest rate of hospitalisations for asthma, wheezing, bronchiolitis and pneumonia

- A child dies every five weeks because of family violence