At end of February nurses and midwives from both PHE and the Department of Health ran a week of action linked to NHS Change Day, focusing on health protection and building resilience. We focused on the public health challenges of effective immunisation and tackling antimicrobial resistance and tuberculosis. We also looked at wider issues in building individual and community resilience. We had expert bloggers and high levels of social media education and activity. Two of the areas in which people were very interested were protecting children and building resilience in young people. This month I am going to focus on the ‘the antimicrobial resistance challenge for children and young people’. In a future blog I will pick up the broader issue of building resilience in young people.
(Also, remember that you can join our NHS Change Day campaign pledge to take one action to improve health protection until 31st March: just click here then tick!)
Why should antimicrobial resistance (AMR) be of concern to those supporting children, young people and families? Children’s centres, nurseries and schools are excellent situations for children and young people to engage in opportunities for learning, socialising and generally spending time with their peers. Such gatherings are an important part of a child’s life. We want to ensure children are healthy and happy, and to achieve our ambition of ‘every child ready for school’. We also know that respiratory and gastrointestinal infections are a major cause of childhood illness, with poor respiratory and hand hygiene contributing to increased spread. Parents, siblings and staff within schools or early years settings are also often affected.
The consequences and impact of the infection in children and young people have far-reaching implications, including school absences, spread of infection to siblings or grandparents and, for parents, time lost from work. Understandably, this may prompt parents to ask their GP for antibiotics as a solution. Public health specialists and early and school years practitioners (including Health Visitors and school nurses) have fundamental roles in health protection, including providing parents with the information to make informed decisions regarding immunisations and vaccines and in understanding when it is appropriate to use antibiotics and when it is not.
Equally important is working with children and young people themselves. This ranges from helping children to understand hand hygiene through to supporting young people to understand that there is not ‘a pill for every ill’ and supporting them in protecting their own health. In this way we will help develop a new generation who understand prevention and help us tackle the global AMR challenge.
Public health support to local partners to work together is vital. One example is ‘school as place’-based work, where school nurses work closely with school leadership teams to reduce school absences related to illnesses and reducing the transmission of infections. An essential element of this role includes working with schools and informal educators such as youth workers to help children and parents understand that antibiotics are not always the answer and to focus minds on reducing transmission of infections and to improve understanding and uptake of immunisations and vaccines.
There are great resources to support schools and informal educators, including the free online e-Bug materials which use fun and educational opportunities to teach children and young people why it is so important to use antibiotics correctly and to have good hand and respiratory hygiene to help reduce the spread of infection. We know the influence of parent education programmes, reinforcement of key messages through the school-aged years and delivery of school-led approaches will support behaviour change in the long term through changes in social norms, which are an important determinant of behaviour.
I would like to thank Professional Nursing Officer Wendy Nicholson for her blog which has helped shape my thoughts on this. Wendy’s blog can be found here. We’ve also created a Pinterest and Storify for the week of action and would love you to take a look.