Are some children more equal than others?

Sarah Boseley’s front page Guardian (3rd May 2014) article revealed “UK child death rate among worst in western Europe”.  The piece goes on to express shock that “children in the UK are more likely to die before they reach their fifth birthday than in any other western European country except Malta”.  The UK does particularly badly within the category known as ‘infant mortality’ - in the first six days of life and from one month to a year.  Sarah Boseley reports the view of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and the National Children’s Bureau, who agree that inequalities in UK society are to blame.  In all categories reported deaths rise with socio-economic deprivation.
In tackling this problem, where do decision makers begin?  There is considerable value in really understanding the children and families within the UK who are at the top of this countries own, internal list.  Is there another way to analyse child, or more specifically infant mortality in order to identify and better serve those most affected?  
This process leads us to a briefing by the Traveller Movement in Britain (March 2012) which tells us that Gypsies and Travellers “experience an infant mortality rate which is three times higher than the national average.”  Yvonne MacNamara, CEO of the Traveller Movement in Britain tells me this is higher than any other ethnic minority group in the UK.  The obvious question is “why?”:
Inequalities in healthcare account for a portion of this high rate of infant mortality.  Access to G.P.’s surgeries, particularly for families who are highly nomadic, can be difficult.  However, the Traveller Movement in Britain are very clear that although nomadism is a factor, it does not tell the whole story.  Gypsies and Travellers experience widespread discrimination and marginalisation as communities.  There is a serious national shortage of sites and the ones that do exist are often in poor locations with inadequate sanitation.  
What can be done to address the issues affecting the community within the UK whose children are most in need?  The Traveller Movement in Britain have successfully secured strong recommendations from the Department of Health’s Inclusion Health Board to the Government for greater recognition and inclusion of Gypsies and Travellers in the health system.  A key aspect of this is the inclusion of Gypsies and Travellers alongside the sixteen ethnic minority groups the Department of Health monitor in the NHS.  This has not happened yet, despite the fact that Gypsies and Travellers are ethnic minority groups under UK law.  This lack of systematic monitoring has a serious impact on everyday health, preventing health services from accessing and addressing the serious health inequalities experienced by these communities.
The NHS themselves recognise the importance of greater awareness, inclusion and improved data collection as follows: “The collection and use of ethnic group data on patients, service users, and staff is the foundation on which NHS bodies and councils with social services responsibilities can assess and address health inequalities, difficulties in access and discrimination experienced by some black and minority ethnic individuals and communities.”  Specific recommendations on this can be found in the Traveller Movement report, “Inclusion and ethnic monitoring of Gypsies and Travellers in the National Health Service”.  
It is important now, as we approach a General Election year, to ask when we will see action on this to restore the reputation of a health service that cares for all children equally.  


Upcoming Event by the Traveller Movement in Britain:

The Traveller Movement is organising a Parliamentary seminar which will scrutinize and challenge media portrayals of Gypsies, Roma and Travellers. The event is being organised in partnership with the Travellers’ Times and hosted by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Gypsies Roma and Travellers.
Chaired by Andrew George MP, the seminar will allow community members, policy makers, media professionals and others to debate how Gypsies, Roma and Travellers are represented in the media. It will focus on the benefits and drawbacks of engaging local media; challenging and influencing regulators (especially in the changing regulatory climate); identifying practical routes into journalism for community members; ongoing challenges to Channel 4’s Big Fat Gypsy Weddings and the impact of the ‘Maria story’ from Greece and Ireland.
Wednesday 14th May 2014,
Thatcher Room, Portcullis House, Westminster
(please bring flyer and allow 30 minutes to pass through security)
For more information and to RSVP:
Tel: 020 7607 2002


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