Stay home. Save Lives. Protect the NHS. That was the message that was ingrained into everyone up and down the country last March when the COVID-19 pandemic first swept around Great Britain and bought with it a national lockdown. And while there was a clear understanding of the reasoning behind the message and the immediate need to attempt to slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus, it’s a message that has also had damaging effects for many families.
Empty Waiting Rooms
The infamous Government slogan saw once bustling hospital A&E departments become sleepy and desolate. In January 2020 – before lockdown – 1,327,234 people attended a consultant-led 24 hour emergency care service in England. This dropped by more than one half in April 2020 according to NHS statistics, when just 639,720 people attended urgent care.
What’s particularly worrying is that, while the total attendance drop across both Type 1 and Type 2 emergency units in England came to 45%, the average drop in under 20’s was a much higher 62%, suggesting parents were reluctant to take their children in to hospital during lockdown.
There are many possible reasons for this, including the fear of catching the virus in a healthcare setting (during the first wave, it’s believed that 40% of COVID-19 cases may have been contracted in hospital), feeling discouraged from attending, or finding it difficult to be seen as many walk-in centres turned to appointment-only systems.
The Impact of Reluctance
There are both positives and negatives to A&E departments seeing fewer child admissions. On the positive side, statistics show that 15% of 0-15 year olds attend A&E ‘inappropriately’, compared to just 5% of 65-84 year olds, so the COVID-related reluctance has certainly cut down on the number of non-essential hospital visits.
However, there are multiple negatives, too. One is the possibility that many children are remaining at home, when they have serious injuries or illnesses that need to be treated. Another is that hospitals are an additional layer of safeguarding, with trained healthcare workers having opportunities to assess children with injuries for risk of abuse.
For children and families that may then become involved in care proceedings, there’s another aspect to consider here; that parents may face potentially damaging allegations of non-accidental injury/ neglect if a child’s injuries have not reported to healthcare workers and/or if there is deemed to have been a complete failure to seek appropriate medical attention for a child. There is the possibility this could result in a rise of wrongful allegations and, worryingly, an increase in social interventions which may not be in the best interests of the children.
Putting Children First
At National Legal Service, we want to ensure that children are protected and cared for, not only during the COVID-19 outbreak, but in the post-pandemic landscape, too. If concerns have been raised over the wellbeing of your children, call us to find out what your options are, and let us support you in doing what’s best for your family. If you are worried about court proceedings, contact us immediately for professional advice.