The Government’s Soft Drinks Industry Levy comes into effect today (Friday, 6th April) in efforts to reduce children’s consumption of sugar, in attempts to tackle the child obesity epidemic, a current priority for the Department of Health and Social Care. NHS Digital has published statistics that show NHS spending on obesity is soaring as hospital admissions because of obesity has increased 18 per cent on the year. Child obesity prevalence currently stands at 10 per cent in reception year of school, and 20 per cent at the end of primary school in year six. NHS Chief Executive Simon Stevens has called it “the new smoking” in terms of public health impact.

Parliament is currently in recess and returns on 16th April.

NHS crack down on prescriptions for “minor ailments” comes into effect

At the end of last week, NHS England published its guidance to stop prescribing treatment for “minor, short-term conditions” including constipation and diarrhoea. The guidance is limited to “self-limiting conditions” and those “suitable for self-care.” NHS England’s press release says that many of the conditions covered by the changes “will cure themselves or cause no long-term effect on health” and specifies that the changes do not apply to “longer term or more complex conditions” and those that are part of a wider health issue.

The move is outlined as a cost-saving exercise. NHS England says that it spends “£22.8 million on constipation” which is claims is “enough to fund around 900 community nurses” and £2.8 million on diarrhoea, which is “enough to fund 2912 cataract operations.”

NHS England Chief Executive, Simon Stevens, said: “Across the NHS our aim is to: ‘Think like a patient, act like a taxpayer’. The NHS is probably the most efficient health service in the world, but we’re determined to keep pushing further. Every pound we save from cutting waste is another pound we can then invest in better A&E care, new cancer treatments and much better mental health services.”

Dr Graham Jackson, co-chair of NHS Clinical Commissioners and Clinical Chair of Aylesbury Vale Clinical Commissioning Group, who also co-chaired the joint clinical working group for this work, said: “It is not good use of the NHS’s limited resources to issue prescriptions for products which are not clinically effective, or for conditions that will get better without treatment or whose symptoms can be managed with appropriate self-care.”

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society responded to the announcement, with its English Pharmacy Board Chair, Sandra Gidley, saying: “we remain concerned that the implementation might disadvantage patients on low incomes and people may be denied treatment because of their inability to pay.” National Voices, a coalition of charities campaigning for “people being in control of their health and care” also responded to the announcement calling for the financially vulnerable to be exempt from the ban.

This shows the context in which the PCF’s consultation response and Norgine’s press release, calling for constipation to be omitted from the list of conditions not needing prescription medicine will be received. It is not alone in calling for changes to the guidance and asking for exemptions. However, the financial constraints NHS England finds itself under means it is unlikely to review the guidance in the short-term. Therefore, the PCF’s representations will be most effective at the political level; we will engage with ministers on the matter.

It happens to me, too continues to get media attention

Champion, a local newspaper in Sefton and West Lancashire, has reported on the launch of It happens to me too in the Houses of Parliament last month. Rosie Cooper, the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Continence Care, is the MP for the newspaper’s catchment area. It outlines the recommendations of the report, including promoting the implementation of the EICC.

The article quotes Ms Cooper saying “It is believed there are more than 21 million people in the UK who suffer with bladder and bowel control problems, 900,000 of whom are children and young people. There is often a stigma associated with bladder and bowel problems, which impacts on the ability of children and young people to interact socially and live as independently as possible in their local communities. They face further challenges in gaining access to practical advice that explains what they should expect from their local health and social care services.”

SEND pupils without school place soars

The BBC has reported on figures it obtained on the impact of shortages for special educational needs funding is resulting in “growing numbers of children being left without suitable school places.” The figures show that 4,050 special needs pupils did not have a school place in England in 2017, compared with 1,710 in 2016, a 137 per cent increase. The total number of pupils up to the age of 19 with SEND or education and healthcare plans (EHCPs) has increased from 233,431 to 279,582.

The BBC notes that the figures have come after 48 local authorities have asked to move money allocated to SEND pupils in mainstream schools to SEND-specific schools, 16 of which were granted permission, 12 were denied permission, and 20 withdrew their applications. While the number of pupils on ECHPs has been increasing, councils budgets have been “cash flat” which is a reduction in funding when accounting for inflation.

Results of a survey conducted by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services suggested that there was a £400 million shortfall in high needs funding last year and schools additionally have to provide 36,000 per pupil per year for children’s special needs plans.

Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, responded to the figures saying ““It is an absolute disgrace that the Government is starving local authorities of the resources needed for children with SEND.  Children are at home because local authorities don’t have enough money to provide suitable education.  Local authorities are being placed in an impossible position.”

These statistics shed a light on the extent to which SEND pupils are being failed by the education system, months after Ofsted’s annual report criticised schools for informally excluding underperforming, particularly SEND, pupils. This data will help inform the PCF’s parliamentary engagement going forward in enforcing its message that children with special needs, such as continence issues, fail to have their needs met.

School leaders flag increasing child poverty

The National Education Union (NEU) published the results of a survey of 900 teachers it conducted with the Child Poverty Action Group which suggest that 60 per cent of school support staff believe that child poverty has worsened since 2015 and 87 per cent of respondents believing that poverty has a significant impact on children’s learning. The results also showed that teachers and schools had to help families with school equipment, meals, and in some cases emergency loans.

Respondents in the survey reported on hungry children “filling their pockets” with food and looking malnourished. One head teacher said, “My children have grey skin, poor teeth, poor hair; they are thinner.”

Joint General Secretary of the NEU, Kevin Courtney, said: “The level of child poverty teachers and school staff are witnessing on a daily basis is having a dreadful effect on the life chances and education of far too many children and young people. It is shocking that in one of the richest countries in the world we have children without appropriate clothes or shoes, who go hungry every day, who cannot afford sanitary protection or who have no stationery to do their homework.”

Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, said: “Teachers see the heart-breaking reality of rising child poverty every day in their classrooms and dinner halls. We must listen to what they are telling us. With nine children in every classroom of 30 now falling below the official poverty line, it is time to ensure all families have enough to live on, and to rebuild the safety net for struggling parents. A vital first step is to lift the freeze on children’s benefits so that they keep up with the rising cost of living.