29 August 2011

The large health disparities in the health status of New Zealand children, which have led to an alarming number of hospital admissions for a range of preventable illnesses, must be urgently addressed says the New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA) in response to this year’s Children’s Social Health Monitor report.

NZMA Chair Dr Paul Ockelford said it was particularly concerning that 5000 more children had been admitted to hospital last year with acute or respiratory illness than in 2007.

“Infectious and respiratory conditions along with other preventable conditions such as skin infections and rheumatic fever, as outlined in the report, highlight the influence of social factors in determining the health of our children.”

“At a time of recession social factors such as adequate housing and nutrition are adversely affected and lead to worse health outcomes, particularly for the most vulnerable populations,” says Dr Ockelford.

“We are seeing children with a range of preventable diseases that are in direct correlation to income inequalities as families are forced to cut spending in areas such as heating their home and purchasing healthy food. The prevalence of these illnesses reveals stark health inequities among some groups in our communities.”

The NZMA Health Equity position statement, published earlier this year and supported by many in the health sector, has called for urgent action with a range of policy recommendations including a minimum income for healthy living for people of all ages; reducing the social gradient in the standard of living through reducing income inequities; and increase availability of long-term and sustainable funding in ill health prevention.

“Reducing income inequality by raising incomes for those who are most disadvantaged will have a dramatic impact on improving population health, as will a whole of government, whole of society approach in working collaboratively to make sure policies across many sectors are aligned to improve health outcomes for our children.”

While the current Government has started the process of integrating key social agencies, including more frequent meeting and collaboration between social services ministries, this process needs to be comprehensive, and accelerated.

“It is essential that government works with families and communities as part of the solution, to improve our children’s health which then impacts their health status throughout life.”

“If we don’t address the health of our most vulnerable groups in childhood we will have rising rates of illness throughout our society and the costs of healthcare will be higher than ever before.”