In recent years, child poverty has increased in Catalonia as a result of the economic crisis. According to the 2016 figures from the Idescat, the latest figures available, and from 2009, children are the group most at risk of poverty, more than the adult population and also more than the 65-year-old or older population group.
“Child health and poverty. What can we learn from the data?” was the title of the conference held within the framework of the Celebration of the 2018 World Health Day.
Data from the latest report related to children and the effects of the crisis on the health of the population were highlighted at the conference, published by the Observatory of the Health System of Catalonia: children with a lower socio-economic level present up to 5 times more morbidity, consume more pharmaceutical drugs (three times more psychotropic drugs) than the remainder of the child population, visit mental health centres more frequently (5.9% of girls and 11.4% of boys as opposed to 1.3% and 2.2% in girls and boys with a higher socio-economic level) and are admitted more to hospitals (45 girls and 58 boys for every 1000 as opposed to 13 and 26, respectively) especially for psychiatric reasons.
A child’s health largely depends on the economy of their parents and those that belong to families with a lower socio-economic level have more health problems, a fact that can have disastrous consequences in other areas such as education and social life and which condition their future. This fact is exacerbated in the case of children with special needs or chronic diseases where their health suffers even more from the effects of poverty because in some cases their care requires specific products which families cannot afford.
This is one of the problems that we are facing right now. There is growing scientific evidence, both in biology and in social sciences, of the importance of the early years in life (including exposure in the womb) in the development of the capacities that stimulate personal well-being throughout the life cycle. Childhood is also a structural transmitter of inequalities, both from a health and socio-economic point of view. If nothing is done, boys and girls who belong to families with few resources run the risk of growing up into adults with worse health and a lower educational and socio-economic level than others.
What can we do? We can of course strengthen the social welfare state, with structural and institutional reforms which are more than ever necessary. Educational policy is fundamental, especially by reinforcing primary education, guaranteeing equal opportunities and putting the spotlight on those children in a disadvantaged situation. Once they are adult, active labour policies are also needed. And from health policies, despite their eminently palliative nature, primary and community care is particularly important as is guaranteeing care to all children.
What do the following have in common? An integrated circuit of home based hospitalisation, a telephonic nursing management project, a plan to minimise risks and the safe use of drugs, the use of ICTs in patients treated with oral anticoagulants, an assistance route of collaboration between primary and specialised care, the redesign of a programme of assistance in sexual and reproductive health, a functional unit of chronic and subacute patients, the optimisation of assistance to a patient who has undergone surgery and an oncological-geriatric unit of intermediary care?
They are all innovative projects or experiences which are compiled in the Observatory of Innovation in Healthcare Management, a reference framework to detect innovative initiatives and tendencies in the Catalan Health System. You can read about it in this post by Dolors Benítez.
“Promoting collaborations between organisations by creating synergies, interest groups and setting up challenges.”
If talking about challenges, we have quite a few and innovation is in fact intended to provide solutions to make improvements.
Innovating, therefore, can be seen as a constant and necessary attitude that we can identify in all professional fields and areas of life.
In the AQuAS blog, we have shared some projects with a strong innovative component.
Unfortunately, inequalities in health are still an issue today including in our country. The crisis of recent years has once again put the spotlight on this subject.
This is why we propose an itinerary taking us through the different texts which we have published on the subject in this blog and, in particular, we invite you to read the original texts which are mentioned here in more depth, a large proportion of which have been elaborated at the AQuAS.
In September of last year, Luis Rajmil reflected on social inequalities in child health and the economic crisis in this post placing the concepts of equality, equity and reality on the agenda for discussion.
“At present, there is enough accumulated information that shows that life’s course and the conditions of prenatal life as well as life during the first few years are very influential factors in the health and social participation of an adult to come.”
At a later date, the Observatory of the effects of the crisis on the health of the population published its third report but prior to that, a post was published with a collection of individual thoughts and reflections on this subject by Xavier Trabado, Angelina González and Andreu Segura focussing on, respectively, the effects of the crisis on the mental health of people, the coordination of different mechanisms in primary and specialised care, the urgency for community health actions and the need to engage in intersectoral actions.
“It is urgent to put community health processes into action; processes in which the community is the protagonist, which constitute the shift from treating an illness to a bio-psycho-social approach which gives an impulse to intersectoral work in a network with local agents, with who there is the shared aim of improving the community’s well-being. Based on the needs detected and prioritised in a participatory way and with the local assets identified, these processes activate interventions based on evidence which are assessed”
In this other post, Cristina Colls presented an interesting case of the application of scientific evidence to political action which occurred with the revision of the socio-economic dimension of the formula for allocating resources to primary care.
“Social inequality leads to an unbalanced distribution of the population in a territory, concentrating the most serious social problems in certain municipalities or neighbourhoods having higher needs for social and health services than other territories. In this context, more needs to be done where needs are greater if the aim is to guarantee equality in the allocation of resources”
Finally, the most recent post was written by Anna García-Altés and Guillem López-Casanovas. It is a text that provides food for thought based on the latest report published from the Observatory of the Health System of Catalonia on the effects of the crisis on the health of the population.
“Understanding the mechanisms by which social inequalities have an impact on the health of the population, so as to know how best to counter or neutralise them, in any place and at any time, is an issue that must still be addressed by our social policies”
We hope that you this very short itinerary through these texts, initiatives and analyses that aim to be useful in tackling inequalities has been of interest.
With the experience acquired during these seven years, what improvements has the project provided in your opinion?
I think the most important has been stability and in ensuring a health care continuum for our boys and girls. We have been able to give 100% cover from the start in primary and hospital paediatric care and in on-going medical care including localised standby calls. This has meant excellent access for the population, with a 100% success rate of pre-arranged appointments for the same day, and, in addition, with a high success rate at primary level, with an increase in standards in the quality of care.
This has led to a drastic decrease in emergency visits to hospitals as well as in admissions and transfers beyond the borders of the territory. Although there are fewer admissions, a fact that brings with it an increase in the complexity of child admissions, the average hospital stays for these admissions have been reduced.
In keeping the umbilical cord tied to the Hospital Sant Joan de Déu for training paediatricians and in the referral our patients, it has meant that this rate of success has in fact increased in our territory.
In this way, children and their parents are always attended by the same paediatrician, or team of paediatricians, where all know the problem at hand and provide solutions following the same protocols that would be followed in the Hospital Sant Joan de Déu.
Another noteworthy element is that by integrating ourselves within the Maternal and Child Unit of the Alt Urgell, with obstetricians and midwives, we have widened the homogeneity of interventions to include the whole mother-baby area and this has allowed us to begin projects such as early postpartum discharges with follow ups by paediatricians/midwives together and postpartum support groups which have been very well received by the population.
The web set up in 2011 has also brought us closer to the population enabling us to spread information on paediatric subjects. In particular, the virtual doctor’s consulting room is a frequently used tool by parents to clarify doubts with great flexibility and without having to travel to the doctor’s rooms.
Good results and awards endorse the entity’s task that you began which has been able to guarantee efficient paediatric, primary and hospital care. What are the keys of this success?
I think having the autonomy to manage ourselves is fundamental. Being able to manage our own agendas, timetables and cover for each other, among other things, has allowed us to adapt the task of caring to the reality of the territory and also to the realities of each professional by trying to reconcile our work and family life. What is more, it allows for on-going training.
The other key point is the relationship with a top-level centre like the Hospital Sant Joan de Déu which ensures we get on-going training and it solves problems of professional isolation that we might experience in zones a long way from the metropolis.
In a way, we feel we have a ‘big brother’ that helps us when there are difficulties and who accompanies along our journey.
Do you think this innovative model of self-management could be applied to other medical specialities and extrapolated to other regions?
I am absolutely convinced that it is a model which can be reproduced in almost all areas of care and in all regions. The important thing is to find professionals who are willing to accept the challenge and that the administration believes in it and is willing to back it.
Information and communication technologies (ICT) have played a key role from the beginning. Of all the innovative actions you have fostered, which one has worked the best?
The web page and virtual consulting room without a shadow of a doubt.
The web page, with its internal part, gives us access to all professionals and it is where all protocols are hung and this means we all work in the same way, including family doctors that are on call in different doctor’s rooms in the Alt Urgell and who have access to it.
The virtual doctor’s consulting room, likewise, means parents’ doubts can be clarified in a relaxed way and without interrupting visits (as always happens with untimely phone calls). On-site visits that require time investment by parents and, above all, discomfort are thus avoided.
You opened a virtual doctor’s consulting room on your web page five years ago, addressed to parents and tutors. Do you receive a lot of consultations via this channel?
As a matter of fact, no. We get 12 consultations a day on average, shared between the four paediatricians on duty in the region (paediatrician and paediatric nurse).
It must be stressed that we have very good accessibility to on-site visits and we attend a total of 3400 children meaning that numbers are logically not very high. The family’s and professional’s satisfaction, respectively, is very high.
Innovation has been the motor of your initiative. Do you have plans for implementing a new project this year?
In December last year, we incorporated the obstetricians from La Seu d’Urgell into the cooperative society. In practical terms, they were already working in close collaboration since 2012 and now form part of the cooperative; this fact consolidates the project a lot.
We would like to have the midwives from the Alt Urgell in the cooperative because with a few small changes, this would allow us to improve care, especially in community health which is lacking at the moment in our region.
This year, CatSalut has asked us to implement the model in other areas of the Pyrenees where there are problems of cover and it is now one of the issues we are looking into.
Interview prepared by Neus Solé Peñalver (@neussolep).