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Hundreds of child casualty patients told to go elsewhere

Children's A&E units at Royal Free and UCLH are closed

19 November, 2020 — By Tom Foot

UCLH. where the paediatric A&E unit is temporary closed

HUNDREDS of child patients have been told to go somewhere else after being taken to the Royal Free and University College hospitals, following the sudden closure of two paediatric A&E departments two months ago.

Councillors on Camden’s health scrutiny committee were told how on one day this week 10 children had to be redirected after attending the Royal Free, with figures “much higher” immediately after the change was introduced in September.

Child patients are no longer being admitted to the Royal Free or UCH because of Covid-19. Any children brought in by parents to the two hospitals’ shut-down units are still being assessed, but they are then taken by ambulance to the Whittington in Highgate.

The new temporary set-up is still yet to fully register with some families who have headed to their nearest hospital.

Deputy council leader, Labour councillor Pat Callaghan, told Tuesday’s meeting: “We were furious when we heard this. Parents didn’t know, we didn’t know. We should have been some of the first to know.”

She added: “We have absolutely purged them over this. We have said we want to be involved next time. I think they have got the message this time. We are talking about how it was communicated – well, it wasn’t communicated.” Almost the entire meeting – debating a Camden Healthwatch report about public awareness – was taken up by councillors discussing why they and the public had not been better informed of the changes by the NHS.

The first time many became aware of the situation was when it was reported in the New Journal.

Conservative councillor Maria Higson described the communication breakdown as “extraordinary”, and Labour’s Cllr Jonathan Simpson said it was “incredibly poor form”.

West Hampstead councillor Shiva Tiwari added: “I would really like to emphasise the dissatisfaction about parents learning this news from the local press, which is not acceptable.” No questions were asked of senior directors or two hospital chief executives about why the changes were outright opposed by at least 12 paediatric consultants at the UCH and Royal Free.

The New Journal revealed how the top doctors had raised serious clinical concerns in three separate private letters to NHS managers, while junior doctors at the Whittington had signed a joint letter with warnings about nursing staffing levels and experience on the new unit.

Royal Free chief executive Jane Slemeck, responding to a question from Cllr Paul Tomlinson about attendances, said: “Initially, they were high because the message had not got out. Those numbers have now come right down. The messaging is getting out and more families are taking their children directly to the Whittington.”

She said around 120 children came to the Royal Free children’s A&E unit every day before it was shut down.

Whittington chief executive Siobhan Harrington told councillors: “We apologise, we didn’t communicate as we should have done, but actually the priority was around safety and keeping families as safe as we could. “We saw a window before we hit an increase in activity this winter. We are keeping a very real-time grip on what is happening on demand and capacity.”

Will Huxter, director of strategy at North Central London CCG, said: “We absolutely acknowledge that in responding to pressures of the pandemic, we made decisions at speed. We acknowledge there is a lot we need to learn from how we’ve done that.”

The managers promised that there would be a full public consultation if the changes were made permanent next year.


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