I wrote a few weeks ago to update you all on how the College was responding to COVID-19. I spoke then of how this was an evolving situation and things are moving very quickly indeed.
This week, the WHO (World Health Organization) declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic – but you will not have needed that to know the effect the virus is having on your services, on children and young people and on you, your colleagues and your families.
The evidence from China now suggests that children probably contract the virus as much as adults and the elderly but experience milder or no symptoms. This is confirmed by colleagues in Italy. We still see no evidence of vertical transmission or of congenital malformations, but it is still very early days. While this is reassuring, children with symptoms are likely to shed considerable viral load. Practising the highest standards of infection control is essential to protect yourself.
And of course, some children and young people are certainly at higher risk, particularly those with compromised respiratory function or a compromised immune system. We are in close regular communication with the Chief Medical Officers, the NHS and public health officials, and other colleges and stakeholders to contribute to how the UK responds to the virus. In particular, we are working hard to ensure that children are not forgotten in the focus on other highly vulnerable groups.
I’m very aware that COVID-19 pressures are coming at a time when you are already very stretched with the continued winter peak. It is a time of great uncertainty and we may all be asked to work in ways that are unfamiliar or even uncomfortable. Almost all of you will be facing changes at your workplace as emergency measures are introduced. You may be asked to work in new ways or in a capacity that is different from the way you usually work.
I understand how worrying and stressful that can be and that you must feel supported – and be supported – when working outside of your usual remit. The Academy of Royal Medical Colleges, the General Medical Council, and all four country health departments have announced (PDF) that employers and healthcare regulators will recognise this and will be giving proper consideration where staff are using their skills outside their comfort zone or their usual skillset.
COVID-19 brings a range of challenges across almost every area of our practice. For trainees, I very much recognise the worries caused by any disruption to training and exams and we have pushed for this issue to be urgently addressed. The four statutory education bodies in the UK have responded to some of these concerns (PDF) and we will be pressing for further clarity on exams.
We have also been working with a group of experts within the College and with other colleges and our specialty groups to produce guidelines relating to COVID-19 and child health. You may have seen the guidance on coronavirus and pregnancy which we produced with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Midwives. New guidance for paediatricians has now been produced covering neonatal, community, acute and emergency, and intensive care settings. Our guidance will be updated and added to as evidence about the virus grows and as the situation develops.
Yesterday, the UK Government announced that we are moving from a ‘containment’ phase as part of its four-part plan to a ‘delay’ phase. From today, if you have coronavirus symptoms, however mild – either a new continuous cough or a high temperature – you should stay at home for at least seven days to protect others and help slow the spread of the disease.
As you will have likely heard, we have very reluctantly taken the step not to go ahead with our annual conference in April. I look forward to conference every year and I know that many of you are as disappointed as I am that we will not be meeting in Liverpool to network, learn, share experience and socialise. We are looking at alternative arrangements for the conference and will be in touch when we have more information.
We’ve also had to make difficult decisions around exams, courses, START assessment and membership ceremonies and will have to make more of these in the coming months. If you have queries on any of these, please visit our web page on how the College is responding to COVID-19. Cancellations will inevitably bring about lost income and, as RCPCH members and fellows, I believe you have the right to know that COVID-19 will bring significant financial challenges to the College. I realise that this is a very sobering time for everyone as we start to realise what is around the corner. But I also remain so impressed and proud of the way that paediatricians always go above and beyond, stepping up to (and beyond) the plate for patients. There’s a lot of uncertainty but we will do our best to keep you regularly updated via this website.
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