CHILDREN from the most deprived parts of Scotland are more than twice as likely to suffer developmental problems such as speech and behavioural issues, it has emerged.

Official statistics lay bare a stark geographical divide – with youngsters in Inverclyde six times more likely to spark concerns than in Aberdeenshire.

Meanwhile, potential problems were much more common among children in care, reflecting their broader vulnerability and generally poor health.

Experts insist early childhood development is influenced by both biological factors, such as being born premature, and environmental factors such as parenting and learning opportunities.

Scottish Labour MSP Monica Lennon accused the SNP of failing to tackle health inequalities.

She said: “Nicola Sturgeon promised Scotland’s children the best start in life, but instead poverty is increasing and is harming the life chances of Scotland’s poorest children.

“These startling poverty-related health inequalities are failing children.

“Scottish Labour shares the Scottish Government’s aspiration for Scotland to be the best country to grow up so we are bitterly disappointed that the ambition is not backed up with investment in children and young people.”

Official data from ISD Scotland shows 22 per cent of children from the most deprived areas in Scotland had a concern raised about their development while undergoing their 27-30 month health review, compared to just 9% from the least deprived communities.

Concerns were most commonly related to speech, language and communication (11% of children), as well as emotional and behavioural development (5% of children).

Boys (20%) were twice as likely as girls (10%) to have a concern recorded.

Meanwhile, while just 4% of children in Aberdeenshire registered such problems, that figure jumped to 24% in Inverclyde. This is thought to reflect differences in approach as well as deprivation levels.

In total, 15% of the more than 56,000 children undergoing a 27-30 month child health review had a concern recorded about at least one area of their development in 2017/18. This has steadily declined from 19% in 2013/14, when the review was introduced.

Health visitors assess a number of areas of development including speech and communication, problem solving, personal and social skills, and behavioural development.

Scottish Tory shadow health secretary Miles Briggs said it would not be a surprise to them “that youngsters in more deprived areas are more likely to have developmental issues than those in the wealthiest”.

He added: “But the geographical gaps across Scotland are stark.

“It’s incredible that a toddler born in Inverclyde is six times more likely to have these problems recorded than one in Aberdeenshire.

“Of course, many of these problems will be addressed and sorted out by the time a child attends school.

“But for others, it will create a huge disadvantage for the rest of their lives.”

It came as research revealed tobacco shops are on the rise in Scotland’s poorest neighbourhoods – raising fears young people are increasingly likely to encounter such products.

Researchers at Edinburgh, Stirling and St Andrews universities found the density of tobacco retailers has been rising in more deprived areas.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We welcome these latest figures and acknowledge the benefit of having a means to identify issues at an early age and put meaningful support in place.

“We are taking a range of actions through our Getting it Right for Every Child approach to ensure young people receive the right support.

“This is also addressing ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) to identify the earliest opportunities to prevent childhood adversity occurring and reduce negative impacts where such experiences have occurred.”