We are in the middle of a global pandemic, and it feels like coronavirus is taking over every aspect of our lives, from work and school to family and friends. How we live seems to have changed entirely. But, actually, some things, like dirty dishes and laundry piles, are still happening just as they did before – and that includes health issues that have nothing to do with coronavirus. Meningitis and appendicitis and lots of other illnesses didn’t get the pandemic memo.
We doctors, however, are seeing far fewer children presenting to our hospitals and to our GP surgeries with all the normal illnesses we would expect.
We are also seeing that the children who are being brought in with very serious conditions, such as sepsis and meningitis, are being brought in far later, and far sicker, than we would hope – sometimes too late for life-saving treatments.
There are many possible reasons for this.
Or it could be that people don’t want to put strain and pressure on the NHS at this busy time. That’s understandable but hospitals and GP surgeries and the 111 service are still open for non-coronavirus treatment, just as they were before this pandemic started.
Or maybe they fear that going to hospital will mean that they won’t be able stay with their child when they’re kept in? (This isn’t true: one parent is generally allowed to stay as long as they aren’t ill themselves), or that they will be infected with coronavirus while in hospital? (Don’t worry: you’ll be taken to a different area from the COVID-19 patients.)
Sometimes the issue may be difficulty getting through to 111, or not knowing who to ask for help. We have all learnt and are responding to the message that if we have a fever or cough, we should stay at home.
So, if your child is unwell and you are concerned, then please, please seek medical advice.
This chart of Red, Amber and Green warning signs, compiled by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, is a really great way to help you work out how urgently you should act – and where you should go for medical treatment. (You’ll find a link at the end of this article, if you’d like to downloaded and print the whole chart.)
If your child is floppy, unrousable, has a non blanching rash, a seizure, is blue around the lips or has difficulty breathing with the muscles between the ribs pulling in with each breath, please call 999.
Also, go to A&E if they have pain in a testicle, as this could indicate testicular torsion, a condition where the testis has twisted and needs emergency surgery.
If your child has a fever for 5 days or more, or you have other concerns, please see your GP or call 111 for further advice. If your child is alert and active as usual, is drinking and passing urine as usual, then you may be able to manage at home, but please do seek advice if you are concerned.
Dr Philippa Kaye works as a GP in both NHS and private practice. She attended Downing College, Cambridge, then took medical studies at Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas’s medical schools in London, training in paediatrics, gynaecology, care of the elderly, acute medicine, psychiatry and general practice. Dr Philippa has also written a number of books, including ones on child health, diabetes in childhood and adolescence. She is a mum of 3.
Illustration: Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health