Families with children who have life-limiting conditions are being urged to not delay seeking emergency medical care if necessary, amid concerns they are avoiding hospitals because of fears around Covid-19.
NHS England data shows that attendance to A&E departments across the country has substantially declined compared to last year. While 2.1 million people visited A&E in March 2019, only 1.5 million visits have been recorded for March this year.
Together for Short Lives, the charity for children with terminal and life-limiting illnesses, has received reports that some families, whose children have had medical issues connected to their underlying condition, delayed visiting A&E because of worries around Covid-19. In some cases this had serious consequences for their children.
The charity said: “In the main children with complex and life-limiting conditions won’t die of Covid-19, but it would be a tragedy if they die because they do not receive help for treatable complications of their underlying condition.
“We are sending a clear message to families caring for very sick children: trust your own judgement, and if your child has worrying symptoms please seek medical care immediately rather than waiting for your child to become more seriously unwell.
Dr Hilary Cass OBE, Chair of Together for Short Lives, said: “We know that everyone is trying to do the right thing by staying at home during the coronavirus crisis. However, we are very worried that parents caring for children with life-limiting conditions might be too frightened to seek urgent medical help until it’s too late. The impact of this will be devastating and we’re already hearing that sadly children have died as a consequence.
“I’m sending a very clear message to every family caring for these children. You know your child better than anyone else, and if you think your child is unwell or deteriorating you must seek medical help. Doctors will want to make sure that your child is treated before their condition deteriorates.
“I stress that child deaths from Covid-19 are very rare, most vulnerable children won’t die of Covid-19, but we must do all we can do stop them dying unnecessarily of their underlying condition.”
Meanwhile the President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Professor Russell Viner, commented: “During the COVID-19 crisis, parents and carers up and down the country have been doing the right thing by keeping children with minor ailments at home and, on behalf of NHS staff, we really want to thank them for their help.
“We’ve recently heard reports of a small but worrying number of cases where children may have become very unwell or even died because they weren’t seen early enough. There could be a number of reasons for this and we’re trying to find out more but our message for parents is clear: if your child is very unwell, we want to see them – we don’t want parents to wait or to worry.
“If parents are concerned and can’t get through on the phone, we want them to contact their GP or, if very worried, to go to a local urgent care centre or to A&E. Hospitals have measures in place to help protect people from Covid-19.
“We’ve relayed our concerns to the health departments across all four nations and we’re working with them to ensure that sick children receive proper care when they need it.”
For more information visit Together for Short Lives