Access to child health care should be fair for all Australian children and funding for disadvantaged groups must be prioritised in the 2018-19 Federal Budget, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) President Dr Catherine Yelland said today.
Australian Early Development Census data suggests the gap between disadvantaged children and other children has widened when it comes to physical health, social competence, and language and cognitive skills.
"It's unacceptable that a child experiences worse health, wellbeing and developmental outcomes because they were born into disadvantage," Dr Yelland said. "The Government needs to do more to improve access to healthcare and improve health outcomes for these children.
"Children who experience health inequities may not have fair access to health care and specialist care because they are affected by social determinants such as geography, ethnicity and socioeconomic status.
"The disadvantage these children experience means they are at increased risk for chronic problems including cerebral palsy, learning difficulties, developmental delay, intellectual disability and mental health problems."
In its pre-budget submission, the RACP recommends the Federal Government commit to new investment in paediatric child health services that are universally available and are prioritised according to patient needs.
The RACP wants funding for home visit programs to increase, particularly in rural and remote areas, to help overcome barriers and to ensure better child health and wellbeing.
Dr Sarah Dalton, President of Paediatrics and Child Health within the RACP, said early intervention is key to addressing inequities in child health care.
"What may seem like small things at the beginning of life can have a major impact on how a child lives," Dr Dalton explained.
"For example, coming from a family where adults smoke can lead to a lifetime of problems with asthma, or being in an environment where bedtime stories are hard to come by can lead to a delay in language development. These families need help and a system that supports their children."
Dr Dalton said the Federal Government should be reporting annually and transparently against the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Children's Headline Indicators.
"Politicians should be standing up in Parliament and telling the community what they are doing to address systemic inequity in children's health and to tackle the health outcomes that result from entrenched social disadvantage," Dr Dalton said.
"We welcome the opportunity to work with the Government to design programs and policies that will deliver these crucial reforms."