Extra beds for very sick children

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AN EXTRA pounds 10m has been pledged by the Government for children's intensive care after an inquiry into the death of a 10-year-old boy who was ferried between four hospitals.

The family of Nicholas Geldard said the extra money had come too late. His great-aunt Kathleen Geldard, said that Nicholas, who died in 1995, might have lived if he had received medical help sooner.

He collapsed at home and was taken by ambulance across the Pennines during a snowstorm in a search for a hospital with the equipment and expertise to treat him.

The tragedy led to an inquiry into the provision of children's intensive care which last year found services were too scattered, with hospitals providing few beds, inadequate levels of specialisation and too few qualified staff. It recommended concentrating specialist care in fewer hospitals and providing 24-hour "retrieval" teams of doctors and nurses specially trained to collect and transport critically ill children. The Government allocated pounds 5m to fund the changes.

Yesterday, Alan Milburn, health minister, announced a further pounds 10m to pay for more beds, staff and training.

Mrs Geldard said: "It has come too late for Nicholas. They should have done this a long time ago."

She added: "Nicholas was a healthy little boy. He just suddenly collapsed. It was a terrible tragedy and the family were devastated. I don't think we will ever get over it."

Nicholas had been playing computer games with a friend at his home in Stockport when he collapsed with a brain haemorrhage. He was taken to Stepping Hill hospital at 6.30pm but the brain scanner necessary to diagnose the problem was routinely switched off at 5pm and the radiologist on duty could not be contacted. After trying hospitals in Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield, Nicholas was taken by ambulance to Leeds 55 miles away but was dead on arrival.

Since last year's report, intensive-care services for the 12,000 children a year who need them have been concentrated in 24 specialist centres, compared with around 30 previously. All critically ill children should now be being treated in these centres rather than on general children's wards. The report said that although fewer centres would mean longer journey times, with specially trained retrieval teams to transport children the overall standard of treatment would improve.

Mr Milburn said: "Critically ill children deserve the best care the NHS can provide. The extra funding will modernise this crucial service so that children throughout the country have access to round the clock life saving care."

Around 280 beds are currently available in the lead centres. The extra cash will mean that up to an additional 20 fully operational and staffed beds can be brought into use at times of peak demand.

t Emergency services in Kent were forced to call out a helicopter from Belgium on Monday to transfer a four-year-old girl injured in a car accident to hospital in London. The Kent air ambulance crashed in July, killing its three occupants after hitting overhead power lines, and no other helicopter ambulance was available in the South-east.