Paediatricians are warning that unless there is an overhaul of unscheduled care services, there is a risk that growing demand will result in poorer outcomes for children.
A new set of standards – Facing the Future: Together for Child Health – says that in order to deal with these pressures, and to improve child health outcomes, more investment is needed and services need to be redesigned.
More children need to be cared for outside the hospital, in the community and closer to their home.
The new set of standards produced by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Royal College of Nursing and Royal College of GPs, states that:
– Every child should have timely access to high-quality unscheduled care services,
– No child should be in hospital when care can be provided to an equivalent or better standard outside the hospital
– Service providers, planners, commissioners and users should work together across hospital and community services, primary and secondary care and paediatrics and general practice to design and deliver efficient and effective unscheduled care in a geographical network which is responsive to the needs of local children and their parents and carers.
Dr Hilary Cass, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “The vast majority of children’s illnesses are minor and require little or no medical intervention. So a significant number of these attendances at the emergency department are unnecessary – and putting extra pressure on the system and causing undue distress and disruption for families.
“But of course every attendance means that a parent is worried about their child’s health, and either unable or unsure about how to access a more appropriate service. We therefore need to help patients navigate the options available to them and to get the most appropriate care – but also make sure that those services, and the healthcare professionals who deliver them, are fully skilled and best equipped to provide the best possible care.”
The Facing the Future: Together for Child Health standards are designed to improve healthcare services for children and ensure that specialist child health expertise and support are available to strengthen primary care services, supporting GPs to care for children safely in the community.
There are 11 standards in total, including:
– GPs assessing or treating children with unscheduled care should have access to immediate telephone advice from a consultant paediatrician;
– Each acute general children’s service should provide a consultant paediatrician-led rapid-access service so that any child referred for this service can be seen within 24 hours of the referral being made;
– Each acute general children’s service should be supported by a community children’s nursing service which operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for advice and support, with visits as required depending on the needs of the children using the service;
– When a child presents with unscheduled care needs the discharge summary should be sent electronically to their GP and other relevant healthcare professionals within 24 hours and the information is given to the child and their parents and carers;
– There should be documented, regular meetings attended by senior healthcare professionals from hospital, community and primary care services and representatives of children and their parents and carers to monitor, review and improve the effectiveness of local unscheduled care services.