Specialist children’s wards are being forced to shut in the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) hospitals due to a severe shortage of doctors, “jeopardising” the health of vulnerable young patients, according to the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Care.
The Independent reports that dozens of paediatric units and hundreds of beds were temporarily closed in the space of a year, with children sent away to other hospitals to receive care.Urgent action from the government is needed to recruit more child health specialists, Neena Modi, the college’s president is quoted in the report as saying. Paediatricians are filling rota gaps by performing the jobs of two or three doctors at once, she warned, meaning “the quality of care people want to deliver is being compromised”.
According to a RCPCH report, in the year to September 2015 around one third – 31%– of the UK’s 195 NHS trusts and health boards said they had temporarily closed paediatric wards due to staff shortages. And 41% of neonatal units had to refuse new patients.
There is currently an estimated deficit of more than 200 child health specialists across the NHS, including 133 consultants, according to the RCPCH.
“I’m worried about the wellbeing of patients today,” the report quotes Modi as saying. “When resources are insufficient, hard decisions have to be made, and those who have the most urgent and immediate need will of course be seen first.”
The situation could be made worse by Brexit, Modi warned, with 40% of career-grade paediatricians having earned their first qualification abroad.
Hospital admissions among children increased by a quarter between 2013/14 and 2015/16, the report said. The college is calling for an increase in the number of paediatrics trainees by 465 each year to avert a “potentially damaging” crisis of “long-term non-sustainability”.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the government’s “utter disregard for our NHS has left children’s health in a desperate state of need”.