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Children’s Health

Volume 475: debated on Tuesday 6 May 2008

Improving outcomes for children is a priority across the range of responsibilities of the Government. The recently published children’s plan set out how the work is focused towards achieving a long-term vision of England as the best place in the world for children to grow up.

Ten years ago there were no children’s centres in Brent; now we have 12. That has vastly improved the well-being of children and young mums. By 2010, there will be a children’s centre in every constituency. In the meantime, however, does my hon. Friend agree that baby and toddler centres like the one that my constituent, Sarah Green, is fighting for should be kept open by primary care trusts and local authorities?

My hon. Friend is right. The importance of these centres in the early years is paramount, not only for children but for parents. We are very proud of our Government’s initiative in introducing them and increasing support in the community. This morning, I saw on Beavers Lane estate in Hounslow a hub where all the integrated services are working closely together. That makes a huge difference to the future lives of children, who will be our young people, and their parents. All health professionals are to be congratulated. I urge people in my hon. Friend’s local area to take note of this.

Does the hon. Lady agree that children’s health starts with a happy and successful birth, and that it therefore makes no sense at all for the Government to press primary care trusts all over country, including those in West Sussex, to close and diminish the number of maternity services, particularly at Princess Royal hospital in Haywards Heath—an area of exceptional growth with an enormous new population expected? It makes no sense whatever to downgrade valued and cherished maternity services at an excellent hospital.

The hon. Gentleman has raised this issue with me before in Adjournment debates in Westminster Hall, and he has campaigned strongly for his area. However, what is happening is not to downgrade but to improve. The Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists would agree that we want children to have the best possible start in life, and the first few minutes are critical, for obvious reasons. As we know, this is happening with the consent of clinicians and the local community. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will continue to engage with his constituents on this important issue.

Does the Minister agree that under-age binge drinking is a growing and alarming health problem for children? Police, ambulance workers and accident and emergency workers would certainly agree with that. Why has so little progress been made in the past eight years in cutting the amount of alcohol that school-age children drink, and what confidence can we have in the Government having more success in that area in the future?

The evidence shows that we are making improvements as regards this very difficult issue, which the hon. Lady rightly raises. It is a serious issue for all of us in this House to address because, as was said in questions and answers earlier, the consequences are so severe. In particular, our hard-pressed health professionals do not wish to have to spend their professional time and resources dealing with it. All of us, across Government and across this House, should take it very seriously.