Coronavirus: Seriously ill children 'missing life-saving treatment' due to COVID-19 fears

Coronavirus: Seriously ill children 'missing life-saving treatment' due to COVID-19 fears

Published at 2:57pm 20th May 2020. (Updated at 6:01pm 23rd May 2020)

Seriously ill children are missing out on life-saving treatment due to the fear surrounding coronavirus, doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) have warned.

Mette Jorgensen, a paediatric oncologist at GOSH, told Sky News that the fear around COVID-19 stopped parents bringing their children to hospital, as she warned of the "collateral damage" of the pandemic.

"I think it's important that we don't have too much collateral damage, that children don't die from their cancer when they're treatable and could be cured," she said.

"If we don't see the children, they will come with much more advanced diseases. They may have a poor prognosis. I think we need to see them as soon as we can but they need to come to us."

Dr Jorgensen says parents are worried about seeking treatment for their children because of the coronavirus. Some have waited a long time before even calling for an ambulance.

In-patient capacity at the hospital fell to 60% during the peak of the UK's outbreak.

The hospital normally operates at near full capacity, according to one of the hospital's medical directors.

Dr Sanjiv Sharma said the drastic drop in the number of patients attending or being referred to the hospital became apparent very early on in the outbreak, and this has been seen across the board.

He told Sky News: "It was a real worry very early on, and something that we were afraid was going to be storing up problems for later on and [for us] to figure out.

"I think we will begin to see that as lockdown is lifted.

"I'm sure these problems are out there and we just haven't seen all of them yet."

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UNICEF recently warned that millions of children around the world would suffer from the secondary effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

That stark prediction applied not just to poorer countries, but ones with advanced health care systems like Britain.

Dr Sharma says paediatricians are "very worried" about this, with the issue being compounded by fears of a second peak in coronavirus cases, as well as a backlog of other hospital cases.

"The planning that we're doing at the moment, it is complicated by the uncertainty of whether or not there's going to be another peak," Dr Sharma said.

"And on top of that, on the horizon, we need to start planning for the winter peak that we usually see within paediatrics.

"So it's really complex jigsaw puzzle."

It has not been business as normal at GOSH, but urgent treatment has not been paused and capacity was not reduced.

The pandemic has required great flexibility "to bring about change that would normally have taken months or years in a matter of weeks".

Dr Jorgensen want parents of sick children to look for treatment and not delay any longer.

She says she understands their concerns, but warns: "It would be a disaster to let them die from their cancer and not treat them."

Families of children who have previously been treated by GOSH, including those with cancer, have also been reluctant to come to the hospital for check-ups.

But Dr Jorgensen says she has not seen any evidence that these patients are more at risk.

"We have patients that will not bring their child in for their surveillance scans," she said.

"Do I really need to have that scan now or will I be more at risk of getting the infection? So it's a difficult balance for families as well. There's lots of anxiety."

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