Nothing to see here – General Practice serves our children well

20 Feb


February 19, 2013 UK readers awoke to the headline that NHS is failing the children. Why?

  • Kids with meningococcal disease are turned away rather than sent to hospital to be cured;
  • Children with asthma are not given adequate treatment;
  • Too many children are admitted to paediatric wards with minor illnesses
  • Doctors prescribe too many drugs which have not been tested on children
  • General practitioners do not have proper postgraduate training in child health

At face value such accusations are depressing. The accusations sully the credibility of GPs who are constantly berated for some failing or other every week in the Britain.

Here I hope to show that the accusations are baseless. General practitioners are fantastic physicians who can manage any patient in first contact doctor setting from cradle to grave.

Meningococcal disease in children

This myth perpetuated in the article that children are turned away is based on an article published in 2006 [http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(06)67932-4/abstract, accessed Feb 20, 2013]


Much has changed since that article was published. In any event the study makes no mention of the fate of the fatalities many of whom, one may argue, would have died anyway. Be that as it may, meningococcal disease is less common now Haemophilus influenzae type B (HiB) immunisation is universally available in UK.


Screen clipping taken: 20/02/2013 22:22

Nearly 70% reduction in cases since 2006 is attributable to the immunisation program. Given that millions of GP visits are children, the fact is the chance of any one GP diagnosing a case of meningococcal disease is vanishingly small today. Thus the hazard referred to is scaremongering. The British public deserve better information to make decisions about their kids who develop fevers and blanching rashes. Sadly a reputable charity, The Meningococcal Foundation perpetuates the hazard speculating there are nearly 3,500 cases of meningococcal disease annually in Britain. The figure for 2012 is 443 recorded cases, and many are adults.

Childhood Asthma

Asthma in children is a common condition. General practitioners diagnose the condition regularly. It is a core competency of MRCGP curriculum to diagnose, treat, and manage asthma.

What we cannot do is make parents give the treatment as often as may be needed. We cannot make children and teens take their inhalers regularly. Important risk factor for poor asthma control in youngsters include: parents/carers who smoke, overcrowding, damp, dusty environment. Prematurity is an independent risk factor for bronchial hyperreactivity/asthma. This is important with the upsurge in assisted conception and attendant increase in multiple births which often end in premature delivery of the babies.

Asthma UK does a good job helping people with asthma understand their condition and manage it properly, including an excellent section on inhaler usage.


Screen clipping taken: 20/02/2013 22:36

It is not doctors’ fault that many children have poorly controlled asthma and asthma-like conditions. People with asthma must take more responsibility for the correct management of this long term condition. Wringing of hands that doctors are not treating people with asthma properly perpetuates a State-controlled solution for every ill affecting individuals. This requires better reading comprehension, better education of children to take responsibility for their actions/conditions, and better access to online resources for everyone to improve information flow.

The story about asthma can apply to every long-term condition. There is not space here to enumerate many of the places to look for advice, though NHS Choices and BBC Health deserve wider readership at least in UK.

Minor illness admissions of children

It is a truism that all serious illness begins as minor illness. The trick is to spot which cases may progress. Doctors receive many years of training to learn how to spot the the worrying case. It is an art not a science in this. Suffice to say, like many of my colleagues, I will refer a child to hospital when I fear that worry will stop me sleeping at night about a particular case. This is, I know, not scientific, but when the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, the child in front of me at that moment will be referred to see a colleague in paediatrics.

If one admits too few patients to hospital, too many unwell children will be taken to Emergency Department out of hours. If one admits too many children, there will be no space for the truly ill child referred by a colleague. All GPs know this. Yes some of us are high referrers while others are not. No-one has discovered what is the ideal referral rate. This is well known to the profession and health economists.

Therefore the accusation in the article is baseless.

Prescribing untested drugs to children

This is a specious argument. With the widespread availability of the British National Formulary for Children, there is a sound basis for prescribing for children in UK (and elsewhere). Yet another baseless accusation threatening to undermine the professionalism of the medical profession in its management of children.

Too few GPs have postgraduate child health training

This is baseless accusation too. General practice curriculum described by RCGP includes core competency in child health. Further, nearly 80% GPs have some postgraduate training in paediatrics before they complete general practice training (at least in UK) [personal communication from Doctors.net website].

Conclusion

The British public has a fantastic primary healthcare service which serves our children well. With a little bit of research it is obvious the article which prompted me to write this is full of inaccuracies and unfounded accusations.

One Response to “Nothing to see here – General Practice serves our children well”

  1. Stephanie Hart February 21, 2013 at 17:57 #

    I totally agree.
    The worry is this is part of political pressure for all child care to be done by “specialists” in child health centres. Antenatal care is already moving over to them. In 5 years, children risk no longer be being seen in primary care – whole family care is fragmented, and we loose all our valuable contacts from cradle to grave.

    It would be good to think that Specialists do better – but I think the evidence is not there. Even at the bottom line, Baby P was failed by primary care and specialist care equally. As so often is the case, that was fundamentally about the family and some children will do badly. To deal with cases like that, and so many others, you need a firm grounding in the family and how all members are.

    No-one has [afaik] proved hospital / specialist care is any better than primary care at distinguishing serious from not so serious.

    …but we have the advantage, normally, of knowing the whole family. Loose that at your peril!

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Jim McManus blogs on public health, ethics, books, theology and more