Stuck in Never Never Land?

First published 14th March 2016
On 26th February 2016, a rare debate took place in the House of Lords.

Rare in this sense, that nobody voiced any objections to a rather dull sounding piece of legislation, entitled 'NHS (Charitable Trusts etc.,) Bill 2015-16.'

This legislation is to do with the 261 NHS Trusts that supply large amounts of money for NHS Hospitals. The Bill releases those trusts that wish to be released, from the oversight of the Secretary of State. This was thought to be a good thing by all present.

At the same time, the Bill made a particular provision for Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH). In 1929, the author of Peter Pan, J M Barrie, left a bequest of all the royalties from performances of Peter Pan to GOSH, enabling them to become the world class childrens hospital and centre of research excellence that it is today. The Bill also extends the provision of these royalties for the future.

GOSH was founded by Dr Charles West in 1852. It had ten beds and a nursing staff of just one! In 1843 a survey revealed that of the 2,400 patients in London hospitals, only 26 were children under ten years of age, this, despite the fact that of the 51,000 recorded deaths that year in the capital, 21,000 were children under ten years old! In founding GOSH, a blow was struck for the rights of vulnerable children for whom healthcare provision was virtually non-existent.

It seems very strange therefore, that nearly 165 years later, advocacy for the basic rights of our children is still an issue. Recently in the national news there has been much talk of the lack of mental health provision for our children and young people. This week there has been a report that states there has been a 54% increase over a twelve year period in children being prescribed anti-depressants. The Times newspaper carried a headline this week that read, 'Anti-depressants handed to children like Smarties'. The article went on to reveal the scary facts that 80% of the 900,000 children taking them are prescribed selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) that have been linked to self-harm, aggression and suicide.

We read with regret and deep anguish of the terrible tragedies of abused children and in some cases the institutional neglect of such children. The situation may be improving, but there is a long way to go.

Looking more broadly across the world, the rights of children are serially abused. The recruitment of child soldiers here and the abduction of female children to serve as camp followers there - the situation is heart-breaking. We are told that the number of unaccompanied children in refugee camps is at alarming levels, where survival is the main issue.

We should be agreed that the right of a child to a childhood is really important: the rights of children to be safe, inviolable and not to be trafficked, enslaved or abused should be rigorously guarded.

This is the 21st century. We might have hoped that by now this kind of shameless infliction of harm and abuse of our children should be behind us. Alas, not. Is rising child poverty even in our own country something we feel good about?

To some extent you can judge a nations soul by the way it treats its children. It cannot be right that in our progressive society, the media are constantly having to draw attention to the abuse of our children.

Of course, a good start is a good home and those of us gifted with children should always hold this before us.

But back to Peter Pan, a wonderful story which has captured the hearts of many over the years. JM Barrie wrote that the reason the lost boys were lost, was because they had no-one to tell them stories. They would also never grow up because they didnt have stories to pass on to others.

The ongoing story of the rights of the child needs to have a happier end than we see trending at the present time. GOSH made a start. We need to work towards a world where all human beings can flourish and it begins with our children.

Bishop Mike

March 2016

This article first appeared in the Western Daily Press.

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