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GPs should prepare for ‘50% rise’ in children’s respiratory viruses next winter, says NHSE


Children respiratory virus


NHS England has told GPs to prepare for a rise in cases of respiratory viruses among children of up to 50% compared with pre-pandemic levels.

In the ‘worst-case scenario’, GPs could see numbers of cases double, NHS England national clinical director for children and young people Professor Simon Kenny said in an NHS England webinar.

He added that the increase in cases is due to there being a ‘significant cohort’ of children who have ‘never had normal viruses’.

The warning comes as NHS England told GPs earlier this month that they should ‘consider’ seeing all children under five with ‘respiratory symptoms’ face-to-face and referring them to secondary care.

Professor Kenny said trends in the southern hemisphere indicate that there could be a 20-50% increase in children with respiratory viruses next winter compared with before the Covid pandemic.

Speaking in NHS England’s latest GP webinar on Thursday, he said: ‘We’ve heard reports from the southern hemisphere of unseasonal outbreaks of respiratory viruses as lockdown eases and as the non-pharmacological interventions such as distancing and face mask wearing goes away.

‘The most likely potential model is a 20-50% increase in children with respiratory infections and that’s largely due to the fact that we’ve got a significant cohort of children now who have never had the normal viruses.’

However, he added that the ‘worst-case scenario’ – which is ‘least likely’ – is a ‘doubling in numbers’, with the second most likely a ‘quieter or normal season’ thanks to ‘persistence in social distancing behaviours’.

Professor Kenny told GPs that it’s ‘difficult to know where the pressures will be highest’ but that this will ‘probably’ be in primary care, 111 and A&E.

He added: ‘We are looking at this with a national perspective [and] we are going to plan any response [but] it might be a difficult winter, [especially] if we see resurgence of Covid at the same time and pressures in adult services.’ 

His warnings come as the chief medical officer last week said GPs should expect a ‘difficult winter’ with a resurgence of flu cases alongside another winter wave of Covid.

North Staffs LMC secretary and BMA GP Committee policy lead on NHS England Dr Chandra Kanneganti told Pulse that practices will struggle without further support as workload has ‘shot up’.

He said: ‘Some days it’s like an only paediatric clinic for me. Absolutely we’re there for the parents and support them but we do need some kind of support services as well.

‘We need wrap-around services to support general practice [as we are] already seeing huge workload increases – even 30% more than what we’ve seen previously. We do need this kind of support when this pressure will come up.’

GPs need 111 to ‘step up’ and ‘reduce the workload’ in practices, as well as ‘supporting services’ to be commissioned such as local ‘hospital at home’ visiting services, Dr Kanneganti said.

And NHS England should launch a public campaign to support GPs and inform patients which symptoms they should contact their GP, he added.

The latest GP appointment figures released last week showed the ‘immense pressures’ that GPs and are under with the ever-increasing workload generated by the pandemic and patient backlog.

Meanwhile, an NHS England webinar moderator said GPs should ‘possibly’ consider hot hubs for children in response to a written question from an attendee.

They added that is being discussed, including in a meeting with the RCGP held on Friday around the support needed for primary care.

It comes as respiratory viruses in children ‘disappeared’ in 2020, after a ‘steady increase in seasonal outbreaks’ over the previous five years, Professor Kenny said.

In February, Public Health England (PHE) revealed that no flu cases had been detected in the last seven weeks thanks to ‘changes in our behaviour’.

And last week it was announced that GPs will soon be able to refer children and young people to new long Covid clinics as the specialist services are expanded.

READERS' COMMENTS [9]

Chris GP 21 June, 2021 9:49 am

I can’t imagine a scenario where primary care does not implode this coming winter

Mr Marvellous 21 June, 2021 10:16 am

We”ll be preparing by…..

…..doing nothing different.

We’re at maximum capacity already.

Scottish GP 21 June, 2021 10:17 am

All the best, be away by then😁

Chris GP 21 June, 2021 10:33 am

Mr Marvellous you are wrong -we are working well beyond maximum capacity already….;-)

Mr Marvellous 21 June, 2021 10:56 am

“Mr Marvellous you are wrong -we are working well beyond maximum capacity already….;-)”

You should cut back to 100% mate. Don’t want to burn out 😉

Paul Attwood 21 June, 2021 12:57 pm

Aaah Kassandra yet another prophecy?

My personal view is that a 50% increase from last winter will be a doddle. Last winter there were hardly any viral infections (based on n=5) my grandchildren had nothing as did their friends but now that lockdown has eased and the kids are back socialising the snots and temperatures are back in all of them.

NHSE England should take the advice of Ouroboros, the snake, and swallow its own tail eventually ending up disappearing leaving a greasy stain. (I can but dream)

Patrufini Duffy 21 June, 2021 2:08 pm

Most of the time you’re treating the adult, not the child. The cough is interfering with Netflix, their latte trips and yoga class. “Can I still take him to the pool?”…ofcourse you can.
Xmas is on.
And the sertraline and calpol keeps running.

John Glasspool 21 June, 2021 4:24 pm

It’s all just silly negativity. A lot of people will still use masks and be distancing themselves. It won’t happen. Anyway, aren’t these experts telling us we use too many antibiotics? Shouldn’t these children all be triaged by NHS 111? It’s only a virus, after all, a bit like Covid. Er…..hang on…..

Muhammad Rahim 25 June, 2021 6:36 pm

Under normal circumstances I would have started preparing for this by physically going to the gym that I’m a member of, but I cannot because I don’t have any time. So I shall just touch wood and keep my fingers crossed.