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Vulnerable children at risk due to paediatrician shortage

Less than 10% take post in community child health

Jo Carlowe

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Vulnerable children and families in need of community services are suffering due to a shortage in qualified consultants.

In a new workforce survey, published today by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), it is revealed that just 9.6% of newly trained paediatricians took up a consultant post in community child health. This compares to the recruitment of 65% consultants in general paediatrics and 27.7% in specialist paediatrics such as neonatology, paediatric immunology and infectious diseases and paediatric neurology.

The CCT (Certificate of Completion of Training) Class of 2016 – Where are they now? report revealed that in one mental health trust in England, referrals went from an expected 6,545 to 11,500 in 2017-18, leading to more than 2,000 young people waiting for assessment or treatment and pushing waiting times for routine appointments up to 19 months.

The number of children who were the subject of a child protection plan (CPP) has also increased, with year on year rises of 126.7%.

This sharp spike in demand is making doctors fearful that vulnerable children who need community paediatric services are going to “fall through the gaps” unless more doctors are recruited to the specialty.

Commenting, Dr Simon Clark, workforce officer at RCPCH, said: “There’s no hiding the fact that all specialities need extra resourcing but as patient numbers increase along with the number of conditions they present with, services are going to become even more stretched. What’s striking about these latest workforce findings is the disparity between newly qualified consultants taking up positions in community paediatrics – a specialty that holds so much responsibility in managing growing 21st century problems – and general paediatric posts. And with the average age of a consultant community paediatrician between 45 and 54, there is a risk this gap will widen further once they retire.

"If we are to reduce the pressure on services and support the most vulnerable children in society, more resources must be provided for community child health.”

The RCPCH believes that around 80 more community paediatricians are needed each year for the next five years to help sustain and improve these services.

To make the specialty more appealing doctors say there should be a sustained plan to improve staffing. This plan must include giving trainees early exposure to community child health, the use of contract flexibility, opportunities to increase skill mix and support to develop and extend into other professional roles.

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