RACP Congress 2019 – Physicians unveil comprehensive plan for the incoming government to improve child health

6 May 2019

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) has today launched a new policy blueprint for early child health and development and are calling on all major parties to commit to making child health a priority if elected on May 18.

Launched at the College’s Congress in Auckland this afternoon, the policy position statement Early Childhood: The importance of the early years offers 47 policy recommendations for improving early development and child health.

The President of the Paediatrics and Child Health Division Council, Professor Paul Colditz, said “focusing on child health is the best investment an incoming government can make to improve health outcomes for the Australian population.”

“Investing in the early years of children’s health, development and wellbeing is the most cost-effective means of tackling long-term health conditions and health inequity.”

The College welcomes Labor’s recent pledges to, if elected:

  • Provide $4 billion dollars towards reducing the cost of childcare for hundreds of thousands of families and we are calling on the Coalition to follow suit.
  • Develop a national first 1000 days program and a whole of government task force on child health
  • Appoint a national Chief Paediatrician

“We also welcome the Coalition’s commitment to a number of child and perinatal health measures announced in its recent Budget and look forward to hearing more about the Coalition’s priorities on child health.”

“Research clearly demonstrates the benefits of early childhood education on later life outcomes are long-term and far-reaching. Benefits include higher levels of employment, income and financial security, improved health outcomes and reduced crime. 

“By investing in early childhood education and development, we can drastically improve the trajectory of a person’s health over the course of their life and therefore combat the inter-generational cycles of disadvantage that persist in particular groups.

“There is an extensive body of research that describes the services and the physical, psychosocial and social environment required to promote optimum infant and child development.

“Our blueprint released today draws on this literature and puts forward a number of practical solutions and policies to ensure every child in Australia receives the best possible start in life.”

In its statement, the College puts forward a number of recommendations for the Government, with a strong focus on parental and infant mental health, nutrition, early childhood education and social welfare, including:

  1. A universal sustained postnatal home visiting program, providing support to all parents for the first 10 days after birth
  2. Extending the Australian Government’s paid parental leave scheme to provide up to 6 months (26 weeks) of paid parental leave (taken by either parent), to support parents and babies in the early months and assist working mothers to continue breastfeeding. 
  3. Introduction of mandatory regulations to restrict the marketing of unhealthy diets to children and young people
  4. Implement an effective tax on sugar sweetened beverages to reduce consumption and use the revenue to invest in culturally relevant initiatives to improve health equity
  5. Create Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) items for paediatric specialists to communicate expert advice to GPs, other specialists and other health professionals through mechanisms other than face to face patient consultations 
  6. Fund the development, implementation, evaluation and scaling up of integrated early childhood programmes designed to improve access to child and allied health
  7. Provide adequate, child focused income support where there are dependent children of parents who are unemployed or living with a disability which prevents them from working

“The upcoming election is a pertinent opportunity for the all parties to demonstrate decisive action towards improving early child health and development,” said Prof Colditz.

“Investing in the health of our youngest members of society makes sense on every level – it fulfils a basic human right, ensures a healthy and educated future workforce and reduces the burden of disease.”

The full policy statement can be accessed here. 

Click here to view the full program for RACP’s Annual Congress.

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