19/12/2011 09:33 GMT

Floella Benjamin, Liberal Democrat Peer, Says Children Should Help Shape NHS

Television presenter Floella Benjamin has called for children to be given a bigger role in shaping the NHS.

Liberal Democrat Baroness Benjamin, best known as a long-standing presenter of Play School, called for changes to the Government's controversial Health and Social Care Bill to prove that society "cares" about the wellbeing of children.

Her comments came as the House of Lords was forced to sit more than three hours earlier than usual in a bid to complete the Bill's marathon committee stage by Wednesday when peers will rise for the Christmas recess.

Lady Benjamin said: "Sadly many children's early lives are broken by relentless mental and physical suffering they go through daily."

She also pointed to children who were made to feel inadequate and lose their confidence because they suffer from "lesser known conditions like sickle cell which is not widely recognised by teachers".

"We need to put in place a holistic provision of care for those children, for their voices to be heard, for them to know that society cares about their wellbeing, which will give them the hope for the future."

She called for "joined up policies" and for the Government to accept amendments to the Bill to "prove that we are nation that cares about children, our future".

Independent crossbench peer Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, a former president of the Royal Society of Medicine, added: "Children are the only group who, en masse, completely do not have an independent voice. In all other groups who are vulnerable there will be a spectrum of people some of whom are able to be outspoken, some who can be advocates for others, even amongst those with dementia, the very elderly and those who have come to this country as asylum seekers and so on."

She said children under the age of 16 were entirely dependent on their legal guardians.

Health minister Earl Howe, replying to the debate, said he expected "the voice of children to be heard" in the reformed NHS and said the new structures would take account of the needs of young people.