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BMJ Open. 2012 Mar 28;2(2):e000759. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2011-000759. Print 2012.

Trends in the coverage of 'universal' child health reviews: observational study using routinely available data.

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Information Services Division, NHS National Services Scotland, Edinburgh, UK.



Universally offered child health reviews form the backbone of the UK child health programme. The reviews assess children's health, development and well-being and facilitate access to additional support as required. The number of reviews offered per child has been reduced over recent years to allow more flexible provision of support to families in need: equitable coverage of the remaining reviews is therefore particularly important. This study assessed the coverage of universal child health reviews, with an emphasis on trends over time and inequalities in coverage by deprivation.


Assessment of the coverage of child health reviews by area-based deprivation using routinely available data. Supplementary audit of the quality of the routine data source used.




Two cohorts of around 40 000 children each. The cohorts were born in 1998/1999 and 2007/2008 and eligible for the previous programme of five and the current programme of two preschool reviews, respectively.


Coverage of the specified child health reviews for the whole cohorts and by deprivation.


Coverage of the 10 day review is high (99%), but it progressively declines for reviews at older ages (86% for the 39-42 month review). Coverage is lower in children living in the most deprived areas for all reviews, and the discrepancy progressively increases for reviews at older ages (78% and 92% coverage for the 39-42 month review in most and least deprived groups). Coverage has been stable over time: it has not increased for the remaining reviews after reduction in the number of reviews provided.


The inverse care law continues to operate in relation to 'universal' child health reviews. Equitable uptake of reviews is important to ensure maximum likely impact on inequalities in children's outcomes.

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