When should I take my child to A&E? Emergency departments flooded with sick children

Doctors have warned the public they are being overwhelmed by parents bringing young children in with minor illnesses. Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health says hospitals are seeing record numbers of children who could be treated at home but instead are coming into A&E. Viruses are currently flourishing as more people mix due to the relaxing of restrictions, doctors say.

Many of the children being brought into hospital by their parents are aged under five – but they do not have COVID-19.

Their illnesses are caused by common respiratory infections, such as bronchiolitis, the cold and paraflu.

After disappearing in winter during lockdown when people were banned from gathering in large numbers, these viruses have reappeared in the summer.

But even though it is summer, the illnesses are appearing at winter levels, putting huge pressure on emergency departments in hospitals.


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Dr Damian Roland, a paediatrician who works in Leicester, said he had recently seen nearly 300 patients in one day in his A&E department.

“You just see hour after hour more and more patients arrive, and we simply don’t have enough staff to keep up with that demand,” he said.

“We feel like we’re at our capacity and winter hasn’t even begun yet.”

As a result, doctors are warning of long delays of more than four hours in some departments.

When should I take my child to hospital if they are ill?

Always seek medical advice if your baby or child:

• is under three months old and has a temperature of 38C (100F) or higher
• is three to six months old and has a temperature of 39C (102F) or higher
• has a fever lasting for more than five days, or is becoming more unwell
• is not drinking well or is dehydrated with fewer than two wet nappies a day
• develops a red rash that doesn’t fade when a glass is rolled over it
• has a fit or convulsion
• is crying constantly, or it doesn’t sound like their normal cry

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The NHS website advises when looking after an ill child you should:

• Keep the room airy without being draughty. If the room is too warm, they’ll probably feel worse.

• Give your child plenty to drink. For the first day or so don’t bother about food unless they want it. After that, start trying to tempt them with bits of food and encouraging them to have nutritious drinks like milk.

• Try to give your child time for quiet games, stories, company and comfort.

• Sick children get very tired and need plenty of rest. Encourage your child to doze off when they need to, perhaps with a story read by you or on tape or CD.

• Never fall asleep with a sick baby on the sofa with you, even if you’re both exhausted. This increases the chances of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

If your child is ill with an ongoing illness, with symptoms like a cough, runny nose and moderate fever, ask your pharmacist if there is anything that can help.

They will be able to advise if you need to take the child to hospital based on their symptoms.

GPs can also arrange appointments over the phone and advise and prescribe medications.

You can also call NHS 111 for medical advice, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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