No extra beds are to be provided in isolated units, and the care of critically ill children on general hospital wards should cease within a year, Mr Dobson said.
Under guidelines laid out in a report, Paediatric Intensive Care: A Framework for the Future, published today, the 280 children's intensive care beds in England will be centralised in about half the current 30 units. An extra pounds 5m is to be provided over the next 12 months to implement the changes.
The plans - which follow complaints that hospitals were repeatedly turning away children because of a shortage of beds - will raise fears that patients will be put at risk by longer travelling times. Any delay in admission can jeopardise recovery.
Mr Dobson, who is to launch the report in Leeds today, said the establishment of lead centres in every area of the country would ensure that the 12,000 children who are seriously injured in accidents or fall critically ill have the best chance of recovery.
Retrieval teams of doctors and nurses trained in intensive care will accompany children transferred by ambulance from referring hospitals.
The National Co-ordinating Group on Paediatric Intensive Care, which produced the report, was set up by the health department last year after an inquiry into the death from a brain haemorrhage of ten year old Nicholas Geldard from Stockport, who was ferried between three hospitals in search of a bed.
Although the report does not specify a minimum number of beds for each unit, it says they must be of a sufficient size to sustain highly qualified full-time staff, working exclusively in intensive care. Each bed costs pounds 250,000 a year to run. Jeremy LauranceReuse content