Crisis grows over intensive care beds for children

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The Independent Online
LIZ HUNT

Health Editor

The Government was facing a new health crisis last night, following reports of a nationwide shortage of intensive care beds for children, some suffering from meningitis.

Children with the life- threatening infection have been turned away from hospitals in London, Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield, because intensive care beds cannot be found. St Mary's Hospital, in London, has been too full to admit children with meningitis 41 times in the last 12 months. Two children died in December after the hospital could not find a bed.

A senior hospital manager in Manchester said the shortage of paediatric intensive care facilities over the Christmas period was the worst he had ever known. About 30 sick children, not all with meningitis, have been turned away from the Royal Manchester Children's Hospital and Booth Hall Hospital, Manchester, over the past three months.

A spokeswoman for the Alderhey Children's Hospital, in Liverpool, said that on "several occasions" in the last two months the hospital had been unable to admit children to intensive care. The situation is reported to be the same in Sheffield. All the hospitals said the severe shortage of specialist staff was preventing them from opening new beds.

The meningitis scare has highlighted the lack of children's intensive care beds, and follows evidence last week of a shortage of doctors and nurses in casualty departments running at capacity. There is also a "severe and prolonged" shortage of acute beds for emergency admissions reported by the British Medical Association.

However, the latest crisis will have a particular resonance for the Government. A shortage of paediatric intensive care facilities and nurses in the late 1980s prompted a national outcry and the NHS review, which resulted in the introduction of the internal market.

Dr Parviz Habibi, a meningitis specialist at St Mary's, said last night: "There's a shortage of intensive care beds for children and this is highlighted when you get clusters of life-threatening diseases. When children die in intensive care, as they do, the parents may be grief-stricken but they thank you for doing all that you could. What can you say when the child was stuck in a paediatric ward, or worse, in casualty?"

nAn 11-month-old girl became the latest victim of meningitis. Harriet Beddows, fromBirmingham, died in the city's Heartlands Hospital at the weekend. An alert has been raised at the Babytots nursery she attended in Shard End.

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