Keir Starmer raises concerns over A&E closures as hospital admits 300 children turned away every month

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer will today raise concerns about the closure of two children’s A&Es in London this winter.

It came as one of the hospitals admitted that 300 children a month are still turning up at its A&E seeking treatment – unaware that it has been closed to under-18s since the first coronavirus peak in March.

Sir Keir and fellow London Labour MP Tulip Siddiq are due to meet health chiefs after the Royal Free and University College London hospitals, which serve their constituencies, announced the move to create extra capacity for the second wave of Covid patients.

Sick children and teenagers under 18 will be redirected a number of miles away to the Whittington, in Archway, North Middlesex, in Edmonton, or Barnet hospital.

UCLH, in Bloomsbury, will continue with the closure of its children’s A&E that has been in place since March. The Royal Free will turn away children from the end of the month. The changes are described as “temporary” but it is not known when they will end.

People with close knowledge of the hospitals told the Standard that 250 to 300 children a month have continued to turn up at UCLH seeking treatment during the summer, not realising its paediatric A&E is shut.

There are also concerns that there will be insufficient capacity at the Whittington, at North Middlesex and at Barnet after record levels of demand for A&E care was seen across the NHS last winter. All three hospitals are to have their children’s capacity increased but it is not known by how many beds.

One source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said children had continued to turn up at UCLH despite ambulances being on divert, the NHS 111 advice line directing them elsewhere and adverts in the local press warning the unit was closed.

“Some of these children have been quite poorly,” the Standard was told. “There are no paediatric nurses there – they have been sent to the Whittington.” As a result, nurses with experience of paediatrics have to be summoned from wards to help.

“Kids get sicker quicker and need more intensive treatment more quickly. If you’re having to shlep your poorly kids up to the Whittington, that is more of a delay – and people don’t have the money right now either.”

There are also concerns about the impact of vulnerable teenagers with mental or physical ill health, including those with eating disorders, who may find themselves on an adult ward rather than in specialist units.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock agreed to meet Ms Siddiq, who represents Hampstead and Kilburn, to discuss the changes at the Royal Free after she raised concerns this week in Parliament.

She told the Commons how staff at the hospital, in Hampstead, had saved the life of her baby boy after she rushed him there when he stopped breathing.

She said: “The same children’s A&E will now be closed temporarily from next month because of the pressure that Covid-19 will put on the NHS over winter.”

She demanded a “a cast-iron guarantee” that the closure be “strictly temporary and the children’s A&E service can be restored as soon as possible”.

Doctors have expressed concern that the decision to close the paediatric A&Es is a terrible illustration of how the needs of children are being sacrificed during the pandemic, with preference being given to the needs of older adults.

Today’s meeting will be with North London Partners in Health and Care, a new “integrated care system” quango that oversees care for 1.5m people in five boroughs. Sir Keir’s St Pancras and Holborn constituency includes UCLH and many constituents regard the Royal Free as their local hospital.

The Royal Free’s children and young people’s inpatient beds will also close. UCLH specialist inpatient and day-case services, including cancer haemato-oncology and complex adolescents, will remain open.

Great Ormond Street Hospital will provide more room for urgent elective inpatient and some – but not all – day surgery.

A UCLH spokesperson said: “If a child or young person arrives at our emergency department they are assessed by a member of our medical or nursing team who will provide immediate care if necessary. If further care is needed, we will direct the patient to an alternative local hospital or they will be transferred by ambulance if an emergency admission is required.

“On average 10 children a day walk into our emergency department. We expect this number to reduce as we are working with our partners to communicate the temporary closure to the public, GPs and other referrers so that families are aware of where to get the best care.”


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