Published: 10:38, 29 April 2020
| Updated: 14:24, 29 April 2020
There's been a dramatic decline in the number of children being taken to the accident and emergency department at Kent's biggest hospital since the start of lockdown.
The number is said to have reduced at a similar level during April raising concerns children could be getting seriously ill at home.
Medics say they are seeing far fewer young people with common paediatric problems including seizures, breathing difficulties like asthma, sepsis and diabetes.
It's feared the significant decrease is partly because parents are worried about the spread of Covid-19 and think their child is being put at risk of catching coronavirus if they go to hospital.
Doctors insist attending the emergency department won't put children at any higher risk and precautions have been put in place to minimise exposure to Covid-19 in line with government guidelines.
They have now come up with a traffic light system to remind mums and dads when they should seek urgent treatment.
Dr Katharine O'Loughlin and nurse Katie Paoli on the advise being given to parents during the coronavirus pandemic
A delay in a child being seen in the emergency department could be detrimental to their health.
James Devine, chief executive at Medway NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the Gillingham site, said: "I urge anyone with a serious or life-threatening emergency to call 999 and attend our emergency department if told to do so. It is very important that people get care when they need it and don’t delay seeking treatment for urgent conditions.
"We are continuing to work hard to care for patients with COVID-19, but we are still here for non-coronavirus patients too.
"It’s particularly important that parents contact NHS 111 if they are worried about the health of their child, or call 999 in a serious or life-threatening emergency."
Several other factors could also be linked to the decline in admissions including sports clubs being closed resulting in fewer injuries and a drop in the number of children contracting infectious illnesses which can be spread at school.
The problem is not unique to Kent with research from Italy showing an up to 88% reduction in attendance to emergency departments.
While the full impact of coronavirus on children isn't yet known, the number with severe symptoms is very low. As of April, 13 a total of 44 children had been admitted to hospital after testing positive for Covid-19 - 39 of those had underlying health problems.
Earlier this month it emerged Europe's youngest victim of Covid-19 passed away at Darent Valley hospital, Dartford.
The statistics coincide with a drive by NHS England to encourage people to go to A&E, as four in 10 people have said they are concerned about being a burden to the health service.
NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said:“While NHS staff have pulled out all the stops to deal with Coronavirus they have also worked hard to ensure that patients who don’t have Covid 19 can safely access essential services.
“So whether you or loved one have the symptoms or a heart attack or stroke, are a parent worried about their child or have concerns about conditions such as cancer you should seek help in the way you always would.
“Ignoring problems can have serious consequences - now or in the future.”
More by this authorNicola Everett