Too few Brighton beds for children with swine flu, warns peer

Posted On 09 Dec 2009 at 7:55 am

Brighton and Hove may suffer from a lack of intensive care beds for children if there is a rise in the number of swine flu cases, according to a leading independent peer.
Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, the crossbench chairman of the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee, passed on the warning in a debate on Monday.
He said that the Government had promised to double the number of acute beds in hospitals to handle a worsening of the swine flu pandemic.
Lord Sutherland said: “A recent Cambridge study casts doubt on whether even that preparedness will in fact deal with the situation.
“It says that some regions could come under particular pressure-patchiness again, but a different form of it.
“For example, the South East Coast region, which has only one relevant intensive care unit in Brighton, could see five times as many patients as it has beds for.
“That is a serious question being raised by a serious research team and there ought to be answers, even if they are not available today.”
The Cambridge study was published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, a specialist medical journal.
The researchers, led by Dr Ari Ercole and Dr Roddy O’Donnell at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, said that “paediatric critical care provision may prove to be inadequate”.
They also said that if the situation worsened, routine operations may have to be cancelled and children may have to stay in adult intensive care beds.
Their conclusion is similar to that of Peter Wilkinson, Deputy Director of Public Health and Flu Director at Brighton and Hove City Primary Care Trust (PCT).
In a report to the PCT board last month, he said that across the South East Coast Strategic Health Authority (SHA) region, children who needed intensive care were routinely treated in London.
He said: “Because of these plans there are very few paediatric intensive care beds in the region.
“This is considered to be potential problem area during a pandemic when there may be a high need for (intensive care) beds and inter-hospital transfers may be restricted.” “Work is ongoing at an SHA level to address this.”
Locally, he said, Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust had agreed to make more beds available to treat children in intensive care should the need arise.
The trust runs the Royal Sussex County Hospital and the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital.
He added: “Across the SHA there is agreement that children over a certain weight will be managed on adult units.”
According to a report about the study in The Guardian: “The research assumes that children suffering from swine flu admitted to intensive care will stay for a minimum of five days and that the pandemic peak will last 12 weeks.
“It estimates that 3.8 per cent of the UK’s population of under-15s admitted to hospital for swine flu will require critical care.
“Their calculations show that if the admission rate is 1 per cent, around half of the UK’s critical care capacity will be needed.
“If this rate reaches 2 per cent, almost all the current capacity will be needed.
“Critical care capacity for children varies by region, with some areas, such as Wales, the South East Coast and the East of England, likely to struggle with increased demand, the study suggests, even at a 1 per cent admission rate.
“Pressure is likely to build up in regional specialist centres.”
Lord Sutherland said: “We ask the Government to look at their improved policy and, in the light of what this study is giving to us, at whether further strengthening of the provision of intensive care beds would be sensible.”
He praised aspects of the Government’s preparations for a worsening of the swine flu outbreak – and he praised frontline medical staff.
But he called for greater vigilance on the part of minsters and officials and warned against complacency.

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