What impact is COVID-19 having on child health services?

RCPCH is launching a new data collection and reporting tool to track the impact of COVID-19 on child health services. Dr Jay and Professor Bishop explain why it is so important to capture changes to services during this period.

Update - November 2021: Data collection is complete, and we have published reports for two periods: April 2020 - July 2020 and December 2020 - February 2021.

As widely reported in the media last weekend, there are growing worries about the “unintended consequences” of COVID-19. Whilst initial clinical concerns have rightly focused on those seriously affected and at risk, we also need to consider how the major service and staffing changes put in place to support adult critical care have affected health outcomes for children more broadly.

Emergency Department attendances have greatly reduced, and there have been some reports of parents only bringing children when they are very ill to seek help – sometimes too late – and the RCPCH has a poster to encourage parents to seek help for unwell children as they would normally [as of summer 2022, poster is no longer available].

In the meantime, many paediatric services have had reduced availability of staff due to self-isolation, or paediatric staff redeployed to adult services. All these changes may have an impact on the safety and quality of services for children, but we don’t have an accurate picture of these changes, or their “unintended consequences” - for instance, late presentation or non-accidental injury.

In this new data collection project, the impact of COVID-19 on child health services, we ask clinical leaders in Trusts and Health Boards providing child health services to submit data every week. The first data collection day will be Friday 17 April, and we will be emailing all clinical leads to ask them to take part.

All RCPCH members will be able to log in and see this information as it is reported on a weekly basis. This will allow paediatricians across all settings to understand the landscape they are working in and adapt accordingly, making the best of the situation for the children and families they serve.

Please help us to make this a success by talking to your clinical lead about the importance of this as a reporting tool that will make a difference to children and families. The findings will inform the College’s advocacy work for PPE (personal protective equipment) and testing. The data will also be crucial when it comes to rebuilding paediatric services once COVID-19 has passed. Some services will have been deprioritised, new ways of working will have emerged and by the time the pandemic is over we may be working in new ways.

We encourage you, once you have sight of your own data and that of others, to also look at the QI Central news, which is publishing real life examples of how colleagues have made changes that have had a benefit for children and families.