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More than 4 million children getting sick due to lives in poverty

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Paediatricians are very concerned The RCN called for a stronger child health service to help fight poverty and its consequences

Children’s nursing ‘must be built up’, according to the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), after a report revealed children are becoming sick due to low income and poverty.

Poverty and child health: views from the frontline is a report from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Heath (RCPCH) based on a survey of more than 250 paediatricians across the country. Its figures revealed that nearly 4 million – or more than one in four – children in the UK live in poverty, with projections suggesting this could rise to 5 million by the end of the decade.

Read more: Children's health 'in jeopardy' due to lack of health visitors

More than two-thirds of paediatricians surveyed said poverty and low income contribute ‘very much’ to the ill health of children they work with while housing problems or homelessness were a concern for two thirds of respondents. More than 60% said food insecurity contributed to the ill health of children they treat and 40% had difficulty discharging a child in the last 6 months because of concerns about housing or food insecurity.

RCPCH officer for health promotion Professor Russell Viner said: ‘Poverty has a devastating effect on child health and this report makes disturbing reading. The health impact on children living in poverty is significant – whether that’s increased likelihood of respiratory problems, mental ill-health or obesity.

‘Worryingly, almost half of those surveyed feel the problem is getting worse, with the combination of increasing poverty, housing problems and cuts to services meaning more families are struggling.’

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The RCN called on the government to work towards catching up with other countries’ child healthcare systems to reverse the problem.

Professional lead for children Fiona Smith said: ‘It’s unacceptable that the UK is lagging behind so many countries when it comes to children and young people’s health care. The service needs the funding and resources to meet this rise in demand. As levels of staffing, morale and resources plummet to dangerously low levels, children’s health in the UK is at risk.

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‘Nursing shortages are clear across the board. More than ever, we need to build our children’s nursing workforce. If we don’t take care of our children now, we are building up even more problems for our future adult population. Our children deserve a strong, safe health service that is equipped to deliver the best care possible.’

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