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Children’s Health

Volume 635: debated on Tuesday 6 February 2018

This Government want to see all children and young people get the best start in life. We are implementing a wide range of policies to improve child health, including the most ambitious childhood obesity plan in the world, transformation of children’s mental health and maternity services, improving immunisation rates and tackling child sexual abuse.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health recently praised NHS Scotland’s innovations to improve children’s health. The Scottish initiative Childsmile, which is now 10 years old, has greatly improved children’s dental health, reducing fillings by 24% and cutting annual dental treatment by £5 million. It is good that the UK Government have finally set up trial sites, but with multiple dental extractions under general anaesthetic up by 11%, why is this initiative not being rolled out to all children in England?

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight that, and we are always keen to respond to any representations made on this very important issue. We are also very keen to learn from the other nations about this area, because it is clear that the more we can do with early intervention in childhood, the better we protect people’s long-term health. I will look more specifically into that.

As a children’s doctor, children’s health is very important to me, and the case of children’s doctor, Dr Bawa-Garba, worries me and doctors up and down the country. In NHS practice, I have seen the adverse effect on reflective practice and the impact that it has on staff morale. Ultimately, that will impact on patient safety. I know that the Secretary of State shares my concerns, and I ask him to tell the House what he is going to do about it.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be addressing that in a little while. The whole issue of reflective learning is important. We should not, through this case, prevent people from being honest about the experiences that they have had.

20. Energy drinks packed with caffeine have been connected to problems with children’s health. Tesco, Asda and Aldi have banned the sale of these drinks to under-16s, so will the Government do the same? (903793)

We are becoming increasingly conscious of drinks with additional unnatural stimulants and their impact on people’s health generally, but obviously that becomes more acute with children’s health, so we will look more closely at it. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has highlighted the initiatives that have been taken by individual retailers, because it is up to them to implement good practice.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the best way to achieve strong health and good mental health for children is at the very earliest stages and through forming a strong attachment between that child and their parent in the first 1,001 days from conception? If so, why is there not more in the mental health Green Paper about perinatal mental health?

The Green Paper very much focuses on what we are doing in schools, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right. He highlights the earliest of early intervention, and one reason why we are investing so much more in perinatal mental health is to ensure that the bonds between mother and baby are as strong as they can possibly be.

Following the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) and the Minister’s answer, may I revisit the issue of energy drinks? She might know that a 500 ml can of energy drink contains 12 teaspoons of sugar and the same amount of caffeine as a double espresso, yet energy drinks are being sold for as little as 25p to children as young as 10, and around one in three young people say they regularly consume them. Given the health risks associated with energy drinks, will she tell me more about what steps she and her Department are taking to reduce energy drink sales to and consumption by children?

The hon. Lady will know that action against sugar is very much part of the childhood obesity plan that the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine), is taking forward, but there is a lot more we can do to address the concerns about caffeine, which I know is high on his “to do” list. We will no doubt have more exchanges on this subject in due course.