“Long lasting and deep scars” for children in lockdown says paediatrician urging for return to school

Dr Nik Johnson

Dr Nik Johnson - Credit: Archant

A Huntingdonshire paediatrician is one of hundreds who have signed an open letter urging the Government to release plans about the reopening of schools after seeing rising numbers of youngsters presenting with mental health and behavioural issues.

Dr Nik Johnson, a paediatrician at Hinchingbrooke Hospital, has signed the letter, published by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, which has had more than 1,500 signatures since its launch on June 17.

Dr Johnson told The Hunts Post that although he understood the concerns of parents, he felt, on balance, that children needed the routine and structure of schools for their health and wellbeing.

“The importance of an educational environment and all that it provides for children of all ages has been lost somewhat in a very difficult and challenging situation,” he said.

Adding: “In terms of the effects of social isolation on children’s health, I have seen more problems due to the mental health effects of Covid isolation than the effects of serious physical illness on children locally. Unfortunately, I believe these mental health, safeguarding and financial effects are going to be the more prevalent and longer lasting and cause much deeper scars.”

Dr Johnson said he was only aware on one child at Hinchingbrooke who had been treated for Kawasaki disease, which it is thought could be related to the Covid-19 virus, but this child had since recovered.

He says he has dealt with many more youngsters during the last three months who have presented with anxiety and depression and also unusual and destructive behaviour.

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“Children and young people need their friends and the structure of the school day and some have not fared well during this time.”

Dr Johnson said it may be sensible to provide older children with face coverings in order for them to be able to return to secondary schools.

He also acknowledged the challenges the virus had presented for teaching staff, children, parents, health care professionals balancing up the health risks - real and perceived - and also the challenge for those in Government.

The RCPCH letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson is calling on the Government to publish a clear plan for getting children back to school Professor Russell Viner, president of the RCPCH, said: “The response to this letter in such a short time shows the very real concern paediatricians have for the mental and physical health of children who have now missed many months of education and the broader benefits schools bring.

“Children need their schools. Every child deserves to have an uninterrupted education and teachers, school leaders and local authorities have worked tirelessly to provide that before and during COVID. But teachers do so much more than teach and schools provide so much more than education. Schools are vital to the wellbeing of children and young people, providing a range of services from vaccinations to mental health support.

“Schools are also where at-risk children are looked out for and supported. Right now, we don’t know how some of the most vulnerable children in our society are faring because they are outside of the safety net that school provides.

And, of course, schools are also where our children run around, play and laugh and argue with each other. They need to return to that sort of a healthy normality as soon as possible.”