“Record” numbers of children are turning up at A&E with winter fevers that were suppressed during lockdown, health leaders have warned.
Emergency doctors have described treating two to three times the number of children they would normally expect for the time of year, with anxious parents bypassing their GP and NHS 111.
The influx is threatening to overwhelm some hospitals, already struggling to cope with a flood of patients coming forward with ailments since the pandemic eased in the spring.
Attendances are being driven by a rise in respiratory infections such as RSV (respiratory synctial virus), bronchiolitis, paraflu and rhinovirus, all of which prompt coughs, a runny nose and fever.
Describing the situation as “winter in June”, experts believe the viruses are surging now, having been denied the chance to circulate normally by the lockdown.
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said that many parents may not have seen a fever in their child before, particularly if they were born since the start of the pandemic.
It is one of three medical royal colleges issuing new advice for parents concerned about feverish symptoms in their child.
They say that for most children, treatment with paracetamol, including Calpol, or ibuprofen – but not at the same time – will be sufficient to reduce the fever.
Parents who are concerned should contact their GP or NHS 111.
Experts have advised parents not to take their child to A&E unless it is an emergency
Credit: GETTY IMAGES
Situations where the parent should take a child to A&E is when their baby is under three months with a temperature of 38 degrees or more, or if they are three to six months old with a temperature of 39 degrees or more.
Dr Camilla Kingdon, President of the RCPCH, said: “Many emergency departments are currently overwhelmed and there has been a particularly steep rise in the number of young children presenting.
“Some have seen the highest ever numbers of children in their department and waiting times can be huge.
“The biggest increase we’re seeing is in children with mild fever.
“Fevers are very common in young children and usually aren’t serious.
“But many parents haven’t seen fever in their child before and are worried, particularly if they don’t have their usual sources of support to turn to, such as parent groups.”
Data from four hospitals showing May attendances for those aged 15 and under rose from 15,954 in 2018 to 23,661 this year.
Dr Dan Magnus, consultant in paediatric emergency medicine at the Bristol Royal Hospital, said: "We had an incredibly busy week last week – in fact on Monday we set a new record for the number of children seen in 24hrs in our department ever, and that’s in the middle of summer.
"We are effectively running a winter-level ED (emergency department) response in the summertime."
Dr Michelle Jacobs, from the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said: “Emergency departments (EDs) are currently under intense pressures, with many sites reporting record breaking numbers of patients, crowded departments, and long delays, putting patient safety at risk.
“We absolutely understand and recognise that parents may be concerned, especially if their child is young and this is the first time that they have been unwell. But if they take their child to the Emergency Department there may be a long delay, potentially over four hours, before being seen which may be difficult and distressing for both parents and children.”
It comes the week after Matt Hancock admitted that the NHS backlog for elective surgery is twice as big as previously thought.
The Health Secretary told hospitals to brace for a flood of up to 12.2 million people in need of elective procedures such as hip, knee and eye operations.
This includes 5.1 million patients currently on waiting lists.