First steps in cutting child deaths from treatable infections

The UK has more childhood deaths from treatable infections than comparable European countries, and new research will investigate why fatal delays in hospitalisation occurs. Sweden and Italy both have better survival rates from conditions such as pneumonia and sepsis, and the hope is that this project will identify ways to speed up admissions, and ultimately save lives.

Led by the University of Northampton, the BeArH research project will examine in detail incidents of serious infection in children under five years of age – from the moment a parent realises their child is ill, through contact with frontline health services, to their child’s subsequent admission to hospital. The research aims to identify those points in this process where improvements can be made.

            Professor Sarah Neill (University of Northampton) said: “Infection is a major cause of avoidable childhood deaths in the UK, particularly in the under-fives, yet we know little about the factors that influence when children are admitted to hospital.” These factors may range from aspects of individual children and their family situations, through to the responses of GP surgeries, NHS helplines or A&E departments, she added. “Many of these deaths could be avoided, as infections such as meningitis and pneumonia are potentially treatable if caught early enough.”

            Professor Neill said: “This project will be examining every stage in the child’s journey to see where delays may occur. This might be due to lack of easily accessible, reliable information for parents on symptoms, errors in information sharing between different parts of the NHS, or delays in being seen in an emergency department. Whatever it is, the information we gather will help us to design service improvements so that children get the help they need more quickly.”

            Data for this study will be collected from the catchment areas of Kettering General Hospital and Leicester Royal Infirmary, the two hospitals participating in the study.

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