COVID-19 - message from the President, 15 May

How do we prepare for some type of return to normal of our services? In this week's blog for members, Russell looks at the 'three Rs' - how to reset, restore and recover child health services - and how we're working together to combine evidence, expertise and best practice to produce information for parents and the profession.

Every week I think it will be quietening down. And every week I seem to be wrong. Starting to prepare for some type of return to normal of our services for children and young people, thinking about how some of our patients might be able to return to school, all against a background of working to rapidly understand the new paediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome (PMIS).

On Wednesday we’ll run our next live Q&A, this time focusing on ‘the three Rs’ – how to Reset, Restore and Recover child health services during and after the pandemic. You can log in to find out more and join. There is quite a lot about life pre-COVID that I’d like to go back to, but the experience has also exposed the fact that necessity sometimes gets us to work more effectively, finding solutions to challenges that we have long grappled with. This is certainly true of healthcare. We have a major job to do to restore and claw back capacity and core functions, but it’s also a rare opportunity to reimagine how we work at a systemic level. It feels heartless to point to ‘upsides’ from this horrendous pandemic, but it is the right time to think about the future and influence what that might look like.

Repairing what we had, strengthening it and prioritising young lives must be a national priority

The most urgent priority is the restoration of core services. I’ve written and spoken a lot publicly about the ‘collateral damage’ effects on children. This is about much more than missed appointments, cancelled procedures and absence from school – important though those things are. The truth is that, at best, children and young people are facing a very severe interruption to young lives that are sensitive to events. For some it will be a blip - children are resilient and adaptable. For others, the effects will be significant, subtle and long-lasting. Repairing what we had, strengthening it and prioritising young lives must be a national priority.

There is also a big recovery programme needed for our specialty. For those of us working in paediatrics and child health, COVID-19 has caused unprecedented disruption to medical education, training and assessment. We’ve had to work differently, in new settings and with uncertainty and ambiguity. We know that many of you were anxious about next steps and what a recovery phase looks like. We’ll be working to make sure our diverse membership is supported, represented and heard.

it’s important that parents get accurate, evidence-based information

Returning to the immediate crisis, I spent most of my time this week talking to people about the inflammatory PMIS issue. It’s been difficult getting the balance right between making sure that paediatricians and the public are aware of this rare new syndrome, and the bigger picture for COVID-19 for children. But it’s also been a fascinating experience to be part of a team who’ve worked together at speed to combine evidence, expertise and best practice from around the UK and the world. And it’s important that parents get accurate, evidence-based information. Along with my colleagues on the group, I did a round of interviews on Wednesday and Thursday (including a stressful one on Radio 4’s Today programme, where a poor signal tried to sabotage me. We got there in the end…). Our message was a simple one: it’s rare, we’ve moved very quickly to understand and treat it and parents shouldn’t worry too much. We’ll continue to monitor this one very closely and no doubt we will learn more in the weeks and months ahead.

I’ve also been talking about the very difficult issue of schools, which dominated much of the public discussion this week. Like many things COVID-related, easy answers are very hard to find and we have priorities that don’t sit easily together. We need to get children back to school, but we must to do it at the right time and in a way that balances the risks. Teachers deserve to feel safe. Parents understandably want reassurance. It is a difficult public policy challenge at a time when there are very few fixed points to work from. For our part, we’ll publish information about shielding, access to education and safeguarding in the coming weeks.

That’s all for now.

Best wishes,
Russell


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