What has COVID-19 told us about the future of paediatrics?

RCPCH today publishes its first report from Paediatrics 2040, a major project looking at how paediatrics will change over the next 20 years.

How will paediatrics look in 2040? How best can we predict the demands on paediatricians – and on children’s health – to plan future models of care? What innovations will change the way we work and how care is delivered?

These are the questions we hope to answer in Paediatrics 2040, our major project which launches its first output today with a ‘rapid-response’ look at how working practices have changed under COVID-19 and how such changes may influence the way we work into the future. 

Reimagining the future of paediatric care post COVID-19 identifies a whole range of innovations and challenges that paediatricians – and young people – have seen in the wake of the pandemic. It builds on the College’s work to re-set, restore and recover children’s services across the UK in the months ahead.

Many of the new ways of working instigated under COVID-19 rely on innovative use of technologies, principally in the area of delivering care remotely to patients and their families. While remote care has presented many challenges, the feedback gathered in this report shows how some of the practicalities have turned out not to be as difficult as feared. Many of the practices paediatricians and patients were forced to adopt have offered new opportunities, with some turning out to be an improvement on or, at the least, an extremely useful adjunct to traditional ways of working. These include:

  • Outpatient appointments through video consultation allowing greater participation for multiple specialists
  • Virtual clinics (regular and walk in) through Microsoft Teams (or equivalent technology) enabling continuity of services, especially for those with longer term conditions, which could save time on travel and reduce the footprint of the hospital
  • Keeping families connected during hospital stays using FaceTime (or equivalent technology)
  • Online support and training for families to manage ongoing conditions and treatment using participation of multi-professionals simultaneously, and removing the need for separate appointments in different locations
  • Development of new digital screening tools. This has enabled services to operate that were deemed non-urgent - for example vision and hearing - avoiding unmanageable waiting lists
  • Increased use of remote monitoring and condition management apps. This keeps children out of hospital and means they can be reviewed remotely as much as possible

Professor Russell Viner, President of the RCPCH, has led on the Paediatrics 2040 project. He commented:

The way the paediatric workforce responded to COVID-19 has been remarkable. We have heard from respondents to this report that that there is a real appetite for ensuring that these new ways of working are not lost in the post-COVID world.

As well as the increased use of technology-based innovation, paediatricians have told us of many other changes they would like to see adopted and maintained in the years ahead. These include: improved integration and collaboration between multi-disciplinary teams and specialties; a generally more flexible, responsive and adaptive service; empowerment of parents and carers to keep children away from hospital; and, just as important, an increased understanding of the importance of looking after our own and each other’s wellbeing.

I’d like to thank the many paediatricians who fed into this report, as well as the children and young people who contributed.

In the months ahead the RCPCH will be looking at how to integrate the report’s findings into a roadmap for planning the paediatric service of the future. 

Next steps 

The Paediatrics 2040 project is seeking to establish a credible vision for the future of paediatric services in the UK. We are developing predictions of future child health outcomes and identifying innovations that will change the way paediatric services are delivered. Using these predictions, we will develop models of care and a vision of how future workforces can best serve the needs of CYP populations in 20 years’ time. We look forward to sharing our final project report in early 2021.

Find out more and and get involved

Join members of the Paediatrics 2040 project team for a live Q&A on 1 July, 14.30 about the future of paediatric care in the UK post-COVID-19.