The number of children suffering from swine flu and other respiratory infections this winter might cause a shortage of NHS intensive care beds.
Researchers at Cambridge University, reporting in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, say half of admissions to paediatric intensive-care units are unplanned.
“Thus the scope for increasing capacity by cancelling elective procedures would appear to be limited,” they say.
This might mean that between half and all of children’s intensive care beds are filled at the peak of the flu pandemic, “strengthening concerns that paediatric critical-care provision may prove to be inadequate”.
NHS figures show that under-16s is the age group most likely to be admitted with swine flu, and that one in five deaths in England are among under-14s.
The Department of Health has said that the number of intensive-care beds for children could double from 363 to 700 at the peak of a flu pandemic.