New report calls for free vaccines for pregnant women

The Impact of Early Childhood on Future Health, published today, makes several key recommendations

A new report says investment in public health services in early childhood "must be ring-fenced" to protect the future population against chronic disease.

In the Impact of Early Childhood on Future Health paper, the RCPI Faculty of Public Health Medicine proposes key actions to be implemented. These include:

  • Develop a public health nurse workforce dedicated solely to child health work
  • Establish a dedicated Child Health Office within the HSE to provide leadership for child health and well-being
  • Provide funding and support for important evidence based interventions, such as infant and child mental health services; and free immunisation services for pregnant women

The chair of the committee which produced the paper and Specialist in Public Health Medicine, Dr Julie Heslin, says these services are urgently required.

“The impact of negative experiences in early childhood is immense. This particularly relates to negative experiences in the first 1,000 days from conception when babies’ brains undergo rapid development.

“We now know that this can have hidden long-term health effects, increasing a person’s risk in adulthood of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity or mental health disorders.

“The health service cannot afford not to act now to protect our children’s future health. The cost of health inequalities, often caused by chronic disease, could be between €6.5 billion and €8 billion per year. A public health service dedicated to early childhood is part of the solution to this problem,” said Dr Heslin.

Dean of the Faculty of Public Health Medicine, Professor Elizabeth Keane says that investment is vital.

“The health service has a unique and valued role in providing services for pregnant women, babies and young families. Public health nurses play a key role but their capacity has been compromised by the competing demands of providing care in the community to an ageing population.

"In some areas, certain services have been discontinued, such as those which provided family support programmes for vulnerable families. There is a particular gap in the provision of infant and child mental health services,” Prof Keane said.