Act now call over child care crisis

Health row: Expert attacks lack of ministerial action over nationwide shortage of specialist paediatric units
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The Independent Online

Specialist intensive care treatment for sick children in Britain is still likely to be at crisis point beyond 2000, according to a leading member of the British Paediatric Association.

With a Government health spokesman stating yesterday there would no decision on funding for intensive care beds or clinical staff for children before the outcome of a long-term study was analysed, the Department of Health's wait-and-see approach was heavily criticised by Dr David Scott, a consultant at the Conquest hospital in Hastings, east Sussex, and a council member of the BPA. "We all know what should be done, but at the moment there is no national strategy," Dr Scott said.

With the Department of Health only recently commissioning a detailed study on child intensive care to be carried out by the Medical Research Council, Dr Scott said that by the time the report was delivered and then acted upon "it may be too late".

Yesterday, The Independent revealed that in the past year alone at least 300 children have been denied urgent medical treatment because of a nationwide shortage of resources in paediatric intensive care units (ICUs).The crisis, currently stretching staff at some of Britain's top hospitals, comes two years after a Government promise to improve child intensive careresources.

A Department of Health spokesman said that no immediate action would be taken until the MRC report was delivered and studied. The spokesman said : "This is an in-depth study of the 17 paediatric ICUs. However, till this report is delivered we are considering a national data base of available ICU beds that will improve the service."

Despite the Department of Health emphasising the importance of the MRC study, Stephen Dorrell, the Secretary of State for Health, is not without crucial current information on which to base future ICU strategy in the National Health Service.

Three reports by the BPA since 1992 have highlighted the inadequacy in the current level of paediatric ICU resources. A further BPA survey is expected to be completed in the next two or three weeks.

Shortages of both trained specialist nurses and physicians, and a shortage of beds in specialist units, is predicted to be the likely outcome of the study.

As intensive care medicine for children has developed in recent years, it has become an effective victim of its own success. Adult intensive care units no longer hold the expertise to deal with seriously sick children.

Dr Scott said: "We have proved that the more energetically we improve this specialism, the better the results. Demand and pressure on paediatric ICUs has subsequently increased."

Issuing a warning to Mr Dorrell that he should not waste valuable time, Dr Scott said: "It takes time to train specialist staff. So there is bound to be a time lag between the Government acting on MRC study and realising results. We should be beginning the process now."

Leading article, page 14