Medical research and clinical trials have led to huge advances in treatments for children and young people with conditions such as leukaemia, survival rates for premature babies are increasing due to improved techniques and better screening, we can do miraculous things like operate on babies still in the womb and gene therapy is revolutionising the way we prevent and treat diseases.

But when it comes to some common child health conditions, such as asthma – the UK has both higher incidence rates, and higher mortality rates, than the majority of our Western European counterparts. In the last few months, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health launched a number of national audits – on epilepsy, diabetes and neonatal care. They showed that whilst overall care is improving, progress is worryingly slow.

There remains significant variation in care across the UK. The standards you receive in one part the country can be very different from another – and the variation extends not only across geographical regions, but also between different conditions.

And when you look at major child health challenges such as obesity and mental health, we are struggling to make inroads. 1 in 3 children are overweight or obese by the age of 12, storing up a range of health problem including heart disease, diabetes and some cancers, for the future. There are an estimated 850,000 children - an average of 3 in every classroom - suffering from mental ill health, and over three quarters of 5-15 year olds who have anxiety or diagnosable depression are not in contact with mental health services.

Inequalities in healthcare remain a real concern, with children from the poorest families much more likely to have poor health outcomes. The aspiration has to be for every child - no matter where they live or their background – to have access to the best possible healthcare.

Paradigm shift

If we’re to achieve that, it needs a paradigm shift in how children’s health services are delivered – and collective effort. As healthcare professionals, we have to get better at working together to share expertise and resources – particularly between GPs and hospital doctors. We regularly read about the pressures on hospital beds and too often hospitals are the default option for parents with an ill child. So we need to make sure there are other options to treat minor illnesses outside hospitals, out of hours.

We also need political will. Earlier this year, the RCPCH launched its Vision2015 manifesto, highlighting what we believe the next Government needs to do in order to make the UK’s child health outcomes comparable to the best in the world. Still we hear many of the big ticket announcements on health directed at the ageing population. Whilst it is vital to get services right for the elderly, the more we can do to prevent children getting ill and intervene early, the less likely we are to create unhealthy adults.

And of course we have to support parents, children and young people in taking control of their own health. That means fully involving them in designing services that are planned around their needs and aspirations, not the needs of the professionals.  It also means ensuring that there is easy access to good resources on spotting the signs and dealing with mental ill health, ensuring healthy foods are affordable, and making out-of–hours healthcare a reality.

The solution is not straightforward, but the case for change is increasingly compelling. If we get it right for children, we will benefit not only this generation of young people, but the country’s future adults. And that makes huge moral, social and economic sense.