Dr Shamez Ladhani, a paediatric infectious disease consultant at St George’s Hospital, London, and the chairman of the British Paediatric Surveillance Unit, RCPCH, said: “Nine cases is a lot. We have had fewer deaths in children from Covid than kids not accessing medical care, and that is a real concern.
“Parents were worried that their family would catch the virus and also thought everything was closed because of the Covid outbreak, and because they were told to stay at home and didn’t want to disturb the healthcare system. They were genuinely trying to be helpful, but the fact that one in three consultants saw a delayed presentation is an indication of how big the problem is.
“Deaths are the worst outcome you can have – but there are a lot of concerns, such as referrals for cancer investigations having gone down. How many more people have not come in? People need to realise they can, and should, access healthcare.”
Figures showed that attendances at A&E units fell by 57 per cent between mid-April and mid-May, and charities such as the British Heart Foundation and Stroke Association warned that such extreme falls could cost lives.
On April 25, the NHS had to launch a major new drive to persuade the public to seek urgent care after research found that four in 10 people were too concerned about being a burden on the health service to go for help. The NHS chief executive, Sir Simon Stevens, warned that delays in getting treatment posed a long-term risk to people’s health.
The survey, carried out in April and published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, showed that the majority of children presenting late had diabetes, sepsis, cancer or appendicitis. There were also two cases of newborns readmitted to hospital because their mothers had been sent home too early before proper feeding patterns had been established.
Professor Russell Viner, the president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said: “The impact for children is what we call ‘collateral damage’, including long absences from school and delays or interruptions to vital services.
“We know that parents adhered very strongly to the ‘stay at home’ advice and we need to say clearly that this doesn’t apply if your child is very sick. Should we experience a second wave or regional outbreaks, it is vital that we get the message out to parents that we want to see unwell children at the earliest possible stage.”
Dr Ladhani said many doctors were concerned that child abuse was going undetected even though it is likely to be on the rise becasue of frustrations at home during lockdown.
“Children have been disproportionately affected,” he added. “Even though they are the ones the least impacted by the virus, they are being affected the most. We know they have very low infection rates and their role in transmission is likely to be low.”