The impact of COVID-19 on children

12 June 2020 

On Wednesday, I represented the College in an evidence session with the Senedd Children, Young People and Education Committee.

With the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and the Royal College of Nursing also providing evidence during the 45-minute session, there wasn’t quite enough time to go into detail on all the issues, but I did my best to raise the key points.

Schools returning

A very topical issue this week has been when and how schools should return. It was no surprise that this issue came up right at the start of the committee meeting.

There is a need to strike a balance between there being an acceptably low infection risk between teachers and pupils and acknowledging the harms which are ongoing due to children missing school.

This includes isolation, and I am concerned that inequalities related to wellbeing, as well as education, are being exacerbated by the elongated period away from the classroom.

A further consideration, which must be part of contingency planning, is that there needs to be thought given to the impact of pupils returning to school, but then having a further period of lockdown should a second spike in cases occur.

Park provision

It is understandable that many parks and green spaces had to close to stem the spread of the disease, but it is a worry that these measures are having a disproportionately negative effect on children from less affluent families.

Such public spaces allow for exercise and play which is especially important to those without access to a reasonably sized garden.

Digital GP services for children

I do have a concern that with the switch to digital consultation, we may not reach all children who need to make use of GP services.

Perhaps they will not have access to a computer or smart phone to make contact, or it could be that they feel unable to use a computer to discuss a confidential health matter because it is monitored.

Virtual consultation has been thrust upon us and for the most part is working well, but we need to think hard about those who might feel excluded from this new way of working.

Mental health

The lockdown, isolation and the virus itself are a challenge to all of us. Sadly, we must prepare for an increase in cases of young people with mental health concerns, which have been either triggered by, or exacerbated, during the pandemic.

As we develop the 'new normal' way of working it, presents a good opportunity to review and improve the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services referral process and interface between services.

Family planning and sexual health

I also highlighted to the committee the importance of providing a safe and comfortable environment for young people to discuss sexual health.

This extends beyond provision of safe space. We simply don’t know if young people are going to feel as comfortable reaching out for help from people in roles of authority after this prolonged period in which they may see few more people than their own families.

As we all know the challenges of this pandemic are still unfolding, I’m confident the profession will rise to the challenge and provide excellent patient care.

Post written by

Dr Mair Hopkin, Joint Chair of RCGP Wales

Dr Mair Hopkin qualified in 1980 and was a partner at the Old School Surgery in Pontyclun until 2019. She has served as Chair and Provost of the South East Wales Faculty, as well as being Faculty Representative to RCGP’s UK Council.

Mair has a keen interest in child development and children's and women’s health. She introduced a Well Baby clinic before it became part of the GP contract, and has co-authored a book on child health development in Wales. She has also developed an interest in medical education. She is currently an Associate Dean in the Wales Deanery.

She married a farmer and lived on a working farm for three decades. She has three children, one of whom is a GP, and four grandchildren. She is a Welsh learner.

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