NHS children’s services failing 1,500 lives a year
Up to 1,500 youngsters- half the number of people killed on the roads, are dying every year because of faults with children’s health services, which are approaching crisis point, the new president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has said.Child death rates in Britain were higher than in Germany, France, Italy and Sweden.
Dr Hilary Cass, who took on the post last month, said the NHS did not compare well with other Western European countries when it came to children’s health.
She said: “If you look at the overall picture, we are performing very poorly when it comes to child mortality.”
Dr Cass, a paediatric disability consultant at Guy’s and St Thomas’s in London, continued: “We have about 1,500 excess deaths over and above what we would have if we matched the best performing country, Sweden.
“These are things that should be avertable with medical care – like meningitis, pneumonia and asthma,” she said.
While she admitted there was more investment in Sweden and more doctors per person, she argued: “We should aspire to be the best.”
However, Dr Cass warned there was a potential crisis looming because there were too few middle-grade paediatricians, which wasregularly forcing consultants to work night and weekend shift with little notice.
She said: “We can continue what we are doing for a year or two, but I think consultants will become very demoralised if they don’t see a solution to having to come in on unplanned nights and then having to work the next day.”
If the situation persisted, she predicted consultants woud retire early and the speciality would become less attractive for juniors. “There’s a risk that morale will drop, and once that happens, we are on a slippery slope,” she said.
Paediatrics is currently a popular specialism, particularly among female medics, but she said that meant many work reduced hours in their 30s as they juggled their careers with young families. More were opting out of working a five-day week than before, she explained.
As a result, consultants were increasingly having to cover the role traditionally performed by middle-grade doctors, taking on some front-line out-of-hours shifts.
However, she said broader changes were needed to improve paediatrics. The number of hospital children’s departments should be cut by a quarter, she said, with the remainder rationalised into fewer, larger units.
The money saved could then be spent on deploying more senior paediatricians to work outside hospitals, where they could diagnose sick children quicker.