Children's wards 'at risk of closure', RCPCH warns

Joe Lepper
Wednesday, August 26, 2015

More children admitted to hospital for treatment should be dealt with by GPs in the community in order to prevent overstretched children's wards from closing, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) has warned.

RCPCH wants more children to be treated by GPs in the community. Picture: Matt Gore/Icon
RCPCH wants more children to be treated by GPs in the community. Picture: Matt Gore/Icon

The RCPCH’s annual workforce survey, which received responses from staff from 157 children’s wards, found that 77 per cent believe workforce problems are “unsustainable”.

The main concern is a shortage of trainee paediatricians, particularly those in the middle of their eight-year training programme.

The RCPCH has made three main recommendations to address the situation:

  • Keeping children out of hospital by extending training for GPs to include a minimum time of dedicated acute paediatric experience in GP training, enabling more child health services to be delivered in the community
  • Expanding the numbers of qualified nurses and physician associates to deliver acute and community care
  • Drawing on the paediatric workforce across a region to effectively manage gaps

The highest regional vacancy rates for trainee paediatricians was found to be in Northern Ireland, where 35.6 per cent of posts are vacant. In Wales the vacancy rate among the same group of experienced trainees is also high, at 27.5 per cent.

Neonatal wards, for babies up to 28 days old, are particularly hardest hit with almost a quarter (22.7 per cent) of paediatric posts vacant in December 2014.

The survey also found that the vacancy rate among all paediatricians working on children’s wards had risen from 10.5 per cent in December 2012 to 12.1 per cent in December 2014.

The RCPCH said a key factor in the staffing crisis was a change to the immigration rules whereby doctors from abroad, who fail to earn £30,000 within four years of employment, are forced to leave the UK.

Another is the high rate of female paediatricians who are on maternity leave or choosing to return to work on reduced hours after having children.

Simon Clark, RCPCH workforce officer, said: “Doctors choosing paediatrics as a career are likely to be family focused, which is an important attribute for their professional role. We see that many are choosing to start their own families sooner within the postgraduate paediatric training programmes. 

“And as around 75 per cent of doctors in paediatric training programme are female, there are a high proportion of doctors on maternity leave. There are also a high proportion of doctors choosing to work less than full-time once they have their own children.”

Clark warned that unless the staffing crisis is addressed "there is a very real threat that we could see units closing their doors".

CYP Now Digital membership

  • Latest digital issues
  • Latest online articles
  • Archive of more than 60,000 articles
  • Unlimited access to our online Topic Hubs
  • Archive of digital editions
  • Themed supplements

From £15 / month


CYP Now Magazine

  • Latest print issues
  • Themed supplements

From £12 / month