Doctor shares overwhelming toll of pandemic on children – Urgent referrals needed

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Dr. Larissa Kerecuk, an NHS specialist in rare diseases and kidney problems at the Birmingham Women’s and Children’s Hospital said the effect of the social isolation, fear of the disease, as well as the reduction in community services, has been “huge” for her patients with complex health conditions. One teenage patient, she told, locked themselves in their room “frightened” by the disease and developed OCD while others needed “urgent referrals” for mental health services.

Many parents were “scared to actually come into hospital” with their children for appointments during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, which Dr. Kerecuk said made the children “really frightened”.

“The overwhelming thing was… even you know, when we said we really need to see you, people [the parents] didn’t want to come, they just said, no, no, we’d rather not. Hospitals are not safe at the moment,” she said.

“They weren’t able to interact with their peers [at school], and especially the younger children, they would actually say ‘I really miss my best friend’. ‘I’m sad because I can’t see them’.

“Some of them did express suicidal ideation and needed urgent referrals to the mental health services.”

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Over the pandemic, consultations for many of Dr. Kerecuk’s patients were done remotely, such as through telephone calls – which also affected their care, she explained.

She said: “We were lacking the non-verbal communication needed. Some patients didn’t want to discuss stuff with siblings around them because they were all in one room.

“There’s definitely an issue with remote consultations.”

Dr. Kerecuk also explained that the children who have been “really disadvantaged” are those with learning difficulties and rare complex conditions who are already predisposed to mental health issues.

Many of these children require community paediatric care to support them at school or at home, which “literally… just stopped at the height of the pandemic”, according to Dr. Kerecuk.

“But if they don’t, they end up in a worse state than they were to begin with: their mobility suffers, their speech, their swallowing…if the therapy services are not continued.”

All around the UK, patients are facing delays due to a backlog of community care. It is estimated by the NHS Confederation that the backlog in community services is over one million.

It said the backlog is mostly for pediatric diagnoses, audiology, and speech and language therapy.

However, she praised the charity Make-A-Wish who she said can “lift the children out of the dark places that they’re in”. The charity offer children with rare diseases once-in-a-lifetime ‘wishes’. Dr. Kerecuk is the Chief Medical Advisor for the organisation.

“This is where the wishes come in,” she said.

“When can spend time as a family together, it’s such an amazing time that they have. You can see the sparkle in their eyes.”

The organisation, which are seeking donations to support a list of 503 children with rare diseases, put their operations “on hold” for two years because of the pandemic, explained Jason Suckley, Chief Executive of Make-A-Wish UK.

“You know, I’m sure quite a few marriages have been saved by Make-A-Wish,” said Dr. Kerecuk

“Now more than ever, wishes can have an even bigger impact after two years of living with COVID-19. For children, the pandemic has had a huge negative impact on their mental health.

“What Make-A-Wish UK is able to do… is so powerful.

“I refer as many of the children that I look after as possible because I know it has such a huge psychological impact.”

For help and advice regarding young people’s mental health, visit YoungMinds.

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