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The key to healthy kids: free accessible primary health care for all under 18s

Public Health spokesperson Dr Nikki Turner says the idea of nurses in all low decile primary schools is part of a useful strategy to combat a range of health issues that children in poverty have higher rates of, including rheumatic fever but also other common challenges such as skin infection and recurrent chest infections.

However she says the most important issue is for children to have access to general practice services when they need it and therefore be less likely to turn up to school with untreated conditions. The government needs to further develop an overall health policy for children to include accessible primary health care and free prescription costs to all children under 18 which is made available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

Public Health spokesperson Dr Nikki Turner says the idea of nurses in all low decile primary schools is part of a useful strategy to combat a range of health issues that children in poverty have higher rates of, including rheumatic fever but also other common challenges such as skin infection and recurrent chest infections.

A nurse available for children’s needs in these schools broadens the response from a more narrow focus on sore throat swabbing just for rheumatic fever and offers services to more children through all low decile schools.

However she says the most important issue is for children to have access to general practice services when they need it and therefore be less likely to turn up to school with untreated conditions. The government needs to further develop an overall health policy for children to include accessible primary health care and free prescription costs to all children under 18 which is made available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

Currently the government provides free doctors visits for most under 6s but Turner says this needs to be fully implemented, particularly for after hours and then extended up to 18 years of age.

This is particularly important as kids living in poverty have a lot of health problems, and get sick all hours of the day and night and these families are often placed in the precarious situation where GP visits or picking up scripts are sacrificed to pay for items such as rent and food.

Families in poverty should not need to be juggling the hard decisions about whether they can afford to take a sick child to the doctor in the weekend or delay picking up a prescription because of financial constraints.

“I sadly have too often seen families in a dilemma about whether to delay taking their children in to the doctor particularly to after hours services when they are unsure how important it is to get treatment. For a more effective broad strategy for rheumatic fever and our other pressing child health needs cost should not be a barrier to treatment.”

She stressed the importance of identifying health problems in the classroom referring to the throat swabbing for Rheumatic fever strategy however the health and social needs of children should not be isolated in the school setting.

“The number one consideration is to provide free primary health care accessible to children around the clock 24/7. This is a more important first strategy for the government to focus on.