A child's hand being held by an adult

Lack of Paediatric Intensive Care Beds

In November we reported on the delays in A&E departments and the increasing pressure being felt at NHS Hospitals, but the lack of paediatric intensive care beds is now causing critically ill children to be rushed from one part of England to another as a result of a large rise in winter viruses.

The Guardian newspaper received one statement from a doctor who staffs the unit which remarked on the situation being “dangerous and rotten for families involved” and that staff are firefighting to handle the number of children needing sometimes life-saving care.

The NHS have been unable to provide enough Paediatric Intensive Care (PICU) beds locally which has forced children and families to travel many miles from their homes, with young patients being sent from areas such as the Midlands to Sheffield, London to Cambridge and from one side of the Pennines to the other just to get them a place in a PICU. However, some Doctors haven’t been as lucky with their search, with one PICU Doctor from Whipps Cross hospital in London who was left searching for a bed for a child, with no beds available at St George’s or King’s College hospitals in South London or in the NHS’s entire North Thames region, which covers East, Central and North London and Cambridge. So far, there seems to be no resolution, but clearly this has become a large risk after the Bed Availability and Occupancy Data, that the NHS released in November showed that the number of hospital beds available in England had fallen to its lowest ever level with 17,230 beds being cut since 2010.

The lack of beds across our NHS hospitals is already forcing some Trusts to compromise on the care and service they can provide. For example, Norfolk and Norwich were recently forced to make a difficult decision when staff and bed shortages led them to ask doctors to use the “least unsafe option” when treating patients.

Dr Julia Patterson, a spokeswoman for EveryDoctor, which campaigns to improve doctors’ working conditions, commented on the NNUH’s situation: “When hospitals are so full that there are no intensive care beds, no hospital beds at all, and essential operations are being cancelled because there’s simply no one to do the surgery, then every option carries undue risk.”

The Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine (FICM) also criticised the accuracy of recent data that was released, stating that units in England had been on average 83% full so far this winter were deceptive and underestimated the true extent of the pressures being felt. Furthermore, after speaking to the Health Service Journal, Dr Alison Pittard, the FICM’s dean, had added to the remark that many units had been 100% full in December, as well as having the opinion that 1 in 4 hospitals “did not recognise their unit’s sitreps data”.

With the increased pressures on the NHS and hospital attendances it is understandable that the NHS are forced to spread their patient care across their limited resources. However, our children’s care shouldn’t be compromised by avoidable delays in treatment. It is also important to remember how crucial parental and family support and care is when dealing with critically ill children. Asking families to travel large distances to visit their children can add additional stress to the family as a whole, so moving children to available PICU beds should be an extreme measure and never become the norm.

If you know someone who’s treatment has been significantly compromised due to a delay or lack of suitable resources, speak to our experts to find out how you can make a compensation claim.

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