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Government action to improve health outcomes in babies and infants

A vision for best practice across the health system to ensure babies and children can get the best possible start, has been outlined by the government.

Early Years Health Adviser Andrea Leadsom MP has led the early years review – ‘The best start for life: a vision for the 1,001 critical days’ which highlights six action areas which are key to improving health outcomes in babies and young children.

Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP, said: “When we started work on the review, I was clear that the needs of the baby must be at the heart of everything we do. The coronavirus pandemic has put even more pressure on already-struggling families and, just as we need to level up economic opportunity across the country, we need to level up the support and care for the very youngest.

“The six action areas will have a transformational impact on our society, and I am looking forward to the implementation phase of the review where we will continue to work closely with families and the early years sector. I am confident that delivering this vision will help millions of families to give their baby the very best start for life,” she added.

Leading child health experts agree the care given during the 1,001 critical days has more influence on a child’s future than at any other time in their life, and experiences during this time have a significant impact on the health, wellbeing and opportunity of children throughout life.

Yet children living in households in the lowest socio-economic groups have significantly worse health outcomes than other children which can be caused by stress and smoking in pregnancy, as well as communication problems due to language inequalities.

The government, working with NHSX and in consultation with parents, will bring forward plans to digitise children’s personal child health record, known as the ‘red book’, which contains babies’ details and information about their growth and development. By placing this information online, it will ensure information is easier to store, protect it from being lost and make it easier to share with medical staff and will apply to every new birth from April 2023, bringing it forward a year.

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Everybody should have a solid foundation on which to build their health and we are determined to level up the opportunities for children, no matter their background or where they grow up.”

As part of the government’s determination to level up across the country, the review highlights six action areas which are key to improving health outcomes in babies and young children:

- Seamless support for families: local authorities will be encouraged to publish a clear Start for Life offer for parents in their area making parents and carers aware of what support they can expect in their local area, including services they should expect to receive.

- A welcoming hub for families: a place for families to access Start for Life services, such as childcare, early education and healthcare, as well as advice on jobs and training.

- Information for families when they need it: digital, virtual and telephone services designed around the needs of the family, including digitising the personal child health record.

- An empowered Start for Life workforce: developing a modern skilled workforce to meet the changing needs of families with babies.

- Continually improving the Start for Life offer: health services for families and babies must improve data, evaluation and outcomes to ensure they are meeting a family’s needs.

- Leadership for change: work will begin to encourage local areas to nominate a leader and to ensure the delivery of the review is overseen at a national level.

Health Minister Jo Churchill said: “We know the 1,001 critical days are crucial for development and impact a child’s health for the rest of their life.

“Most babies are born healthy and enjoy a safe and nurturing childhood. However, some do not. Therefore, I am committed to removing barriers so all children are supported and nurtured so they are ready for life.

“This vision document sets out key areas for improvement to ensure every child has an opportunity to thrive and achieve their potential, regardless of their background,” she added.

The Department for Health and Social Care will work with Public Health England, NHS England and Improvement as well as local government to map out the Start for Life journey of parents and carers that captures how they experience digital, virtual and telephone-based services during the 1,001 critical days from conception to the age of 2. Parents and carers will have access to an NHS-branded ‘one stop shop’ online to access all the information they need.

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