Hospitals turn away 300 sick children

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More than 300 seriously ill children were turned away from intensive care units in the first four months of the year, according to a survey released by Labour yesterday.

A shortage of beds and paediatric IC nurses to staff them, is affecting units around the country, with the leading children's hospitals under greatest pressure because of the demand for their expertise.

Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children in London has turned away 99 children since January, and 246 in the past seven months. The Royal Manchester Children's Hospital had turned 32 children away, and Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool, 21. Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge said it had refused entry to 29 children since the start of the year.

In Yorkshire and the North-east, 20 children were refused admission by Leeds General Infirmary, and 18 at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle.

Harriet Harman, Labour's health spokeswoman, said yesterday: "It is every parent's nightmare to have their child turned away from intensive care. Up and down the country people are worried that under the Tories the NHS might not be there for them and their children when they need it. The children being turned way from paediatric IC units are critically ill. They are children who are experiencing the failure of vital organs such as the liver or kidneys."

Labour is demanding a national strategy for the planning and provision of paediatric IC, a regional and national audit of beds, and urgent action to address the shortage of nurses.

Dr Ian James, director of paediatric intensive care at Great Ormond Street, said last night that the hospital had funding to open more beds but was limited by the lack of nurses.

"Another important influence on the availability of acute paediatric intensive care beds is bed-blocking," he said. "More children are surviving previously fatal illnesses, and remain dependent on ventilation but do not need all the other support systems which intensive care units provide.."

A spokesman for the Department of Health said that demand for paediatric IC varied, and there was a winter peak. "Children do sometimes need then to be re-referred to other units, however pressure on beds has now declined. The Secretary of State has asked for a report by the end of this month. It will be published."