A lack of both nurses and doctors specialising in children’s health has recently forced many paediatric and neonatal units to temporarily close to admissions, a medical body has warned.
A “serious shortfall” in the paediatric workforce is putting “dangerous pressure” on already stretched services, said the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health in a new report today.
“This is a dangerously under resourced service”
It said gaps in paediatric rotas, poorly co-ordinated planning, a demoralised workforce, and uncertainty over the status of staff from European countries were all increasing pressure on services.
The report – titled The State of Child Health: The Paediatric Workforce – is mostly based on data from the RCPCH Workforce Census 2015, with additional data from the Office of National Statistics.
It shows that demand for children’s healthcare is increasing, with the number of hospital admissions for children in England rising by 25% between 2013-14 and 2015-16, from 1.2 million to 1.5 million.
In addition, attendances by children at accident and emergency departments grew over the same period by 7%, from 4.5 million to 4.8 million.
Significantly, it shows that nearly a third of paediatric inpatient units and even more neonatal units had to suspend new admissions due to lack of clinical staff during the 12 months to September 2015.
“More than ever, we need to build our children’s nursing workforce”
Shortages of nurses and doctors led to periods of closure to new admissions by 31% of paediatric inpatient units and 41% of neonatal units across the UK, revealed the report.
It also highlighted substantial vacancies at both consultant and trainee levels, the low number of academic consultants and that GPs and practice nurses had “limited” training in child health.
However, perhaps more positively, the report revealed that trusts were relying on the skills of senior nurses to support paediatricians.
It highlighted that advanced nurse practitioners were employed by most trusts, in contrast to physician associates, who were employed in very few paediatric services.
Advanced nurse practitioners were employed by 60% of children’s hospital services, with an estimated workforce of 426 whole-time equivalents, it noted.
College president Professor Neena Modi said the “facts speak for themselves”. “This is a dangerously under resourced service,” said Professor Modi.
“Urgent action can address these problems,” he said. “We call on whoever forms the next government to make this a top priority.”
The RCPCH is calling for urgent action on a “number of fronts” to address workforce pressures, including reassurance over Brexit for clinical staff from other European Union countries.
‘Urgent’ training need in care for transgender patients
It also called for better national and regional workforce planning for paediatrician training and to align these projections with “nursing and other child health workforce requirements”.
Responding to report, the Royal College of Nursing warned that children’s health in the UK was “at risk” due to levels of staffing, morale and resources falling to “dangerously low levels”.
Fiona Smith, RCN professional lead for children and young people’s nursing, said: “Nursing shortages are clear across the board. More than ever, we need to build our children’s nursing workforce.
“Our children deserve a strong, safe health service that is equipped to deliver the best care possible,” she added.