Child safety fears and long waiting times highlighted as Royal College calls for more doctors in the community

A new report, published today by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) and the British Association for Community Child Health (BACCH), highlights an alarming 25% shortfall in the number of community paediatricians.

The report raises concerns over the system failing to cope with growing demand and the unprecedented pressures faced by specialist community children’s doctors, who have a wide remit from child protection to managing children with disabilities and diagnosing those with conditions such as autism and ADHD.

In addition, since the Health and Social Care Act 2012, children are increasingly facing a cruel postcode lottery due to fragmentation in the way services are commissioned and provided across health and local authorities. When coupled with widespread spending cuts at local government, a wildly varying picture is seen across the country.

BACCH Chair, Dr Gabrielle Laing, said: “Community paediatricians have a wide remit for some of our most vulnerable children and families. This report shines a light on the significant variability of these services across the country and highlights the 25% shortfall of doctors on the ground. It’s this shortage, as well as growing demands, which is leading to very long waiting times. For example, 40% of services reported waits of over eight months for the assessment of suspected autism. Delays like this are completely unacceptable.

“What’s more, pressures on community paediatrics are also resulting in less dedicated time for child protection and the essential safeguarding work, which helps to protect vulnerable children from abuse. Paediatricians play a key role in this area and our fear is that without the appropriate resources we’ll see more instances of ‘at risk’ children falling through the cracks, with tragic outcomes.”

The report makes a number of recommendations to turn the situation around. This includes an increase of 25% in the number of community paediatricians, equivalent to 320 more doctors, to meet recommended levels and reduce waiting times. It also provides extensive guidance and clear specifications for commissioners, clinicians and health care organisations, all with the aim of ending the postcode lottery and providing a high quality of care for this vulnerable and often forgotten group, wherever they live in the UK.