A consultant in paediatric infectious diseases at Southampton Children’s Hospital has said fewer children were being brought to the emergency department with conditions such as appendicitis, dehydration and sepsis – but those who are being brought in are more severely ill.
Dr Sanjay Patel said some parents were not seeking help as they were worried their child could contract COVID-19 in hospital.
He said other parents assumed that all illnesses are being caused by coronavirus.
The consultant has urged parents to follow government advice, especially regarding social distancing.
Dr Patel told Sky news: “These are extremely challenging and worrying times for families and I can’t stress how important it is to follow the government advice about social distancing in order to slow down the speed of COVID-19.
“However, I’m really worried there is a very real risk that some children with illnesses such as appendicitis, dehydration or even sepsis are not being brought to see healthcare professionals as quickly as they would be normally.
“We are seeing fewer children than we would expect to see at this time of year, particularly through our emergency department, and those we are seeing who do not have COVID-19 are more severely unwell.
“We’ve seen evidence of this in Hampshire as well as across the country.”
Dr Patel has helped to develop national guidance on children’s health which will allow parents to assess when they should seek medical help.
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A red, amber and green traffic light system advises them when they should seek urgent medical advice.
According to the guidance, produced in conjunction with the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, parents should take their child to A&E or call 999 if they have any of the following symptoms:
If the child becomes pale, mottled and feels abnormally cold to the touch or has pauses in their breathing (apnoeas), an irregular breathing pattern or starts grunting.
If they have severe difficulty in breathing, or are becoming agitated or unresponsive.
If they are going blue round the lips, have a fit/seizure or becomes extremely distressed.
If the child appears confused, very lethargic (difficult to wake) or unresponsive.
They should also take action if the child develops a rash that does not disappear with pressure.
This includes testicular pain, especially in teenage boys.
Parents should contact their GP surgery or call NHS 111 if their child is finding it hard to breathe, this includes the drawing in of the muscles below their lower ribs, at their neck or between their ribs (recession) or head bobbing.
Should they feel dehydrated (dry mouth, sunken eyes, no tears, drowsy or passing less urine than usual).
If they are drowsy or irritable – especially if they remain drowsy or irritable despite their fever coming down.
If they are suffering with extreme shivering or complains of muscle pain.
Parents should contact their GP or dial NHS 111 if they have babies under three months of age with a temperature above 38C (100.4F), or Infants three to six months of age with a temperature above 39C (102.2F).
If any infants or children has a fever above 38C for more than five days.
If a child has persistent vomiting and/or persistent severe abdominal pain or blood in their poo or wee.
Calls should also be made for any limb injury causing reduced movement, persistent pain or head injury causing persistent crying or drowsiness.
The guidance acknowledges that access to a healthcare professional may be delayed, so if symptoms persist for four hours or more and parents have been unable to speak to a GP or 111, they should take their child to the nearest A&E.