Headlines: April 15th, 2005

Young people are slipping through the gap in services provided by the National Health Service for children and older people, according to a report published today. It calls on the NHS to overhaul its approach to adolescent health if it is to meet the needs of young people.In a paper in today’s BMJ, Dr Russell Viner, the UK’s only consultant in adolescent medicine, argues that while the health of children and older people has improved considerably, young people have fallen through the gap in those targeted services.

Dr Viner, Consultant in Adolescent Medicine in the Institute of Child Health at University College London, says death rates for 15 to 19 year olds from injury and suicide have increased five-fold over the last century. In the last 20 years rates of obesity, sexually transmitted infections, smoking and pregnancies among adolescents have increased or shown no improvement.

He wants young people to be recognised as a distinct group in devising public health policies and he says staff to have proper skills to deal with their health needs. He argues that adolescence is a critical period for engaging the population in health because behaviour and attitudes developed then are maintained into adulthood. Dr Viner says current strategies do not target young people appropriately, and do not engage them with their own healthcare. Existing policies, he adds, ignore health inequalities that have a considerable influence on adolescent health.

The paper argues that the exclusive focus on one issue or target – such as teenage pregnancy – misses the other influencing factors in adolescent behaviours, so approaches need to be developed across the education, social services and justice systems.

He suggests that at 14 or 15 young people should re-register with a GP, enabling them to build up a relationship with their doctor outside of the family context. Dr Viner also calls for new health services designed for and by young people, including sexual health and counselling services, to be developed in urban areas.