Indirect effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on paediatric healthcare use and severe disease: a retrospective national cohort study

Thomas C Williams, Clare MacRae, Olivia V Swann, Haris Haseeb, Steve Cunningham, Philip Davies, Neil Gibson, Christopher Lamb, Richard Levin, Catherine M McDougall, Jillian McFadzean, Ian Piper, Alastair Turner, Stephen W Turner, Margrethe Van Dijke, Donald S Urquhart, Bruce Guthrie, Ross J Langley
Archives of Disease in Childhood 2021 January 15

OBJECTIVES: To determine the indirect consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on paediatric healthcare utilisation and severe disease at a national level following lockdown on 23 March 2020.

DESIGN: National retrospective cohort study.

SETTING: Emergency childhood primary and secondary care providers across Scotland; two national paediatric intensive care units (PICUs); statutory death records.

PARTICIPANTS: 273 455 unscheduled primary care attendances; 462 437 emergency department attendances; 54 076 emergency hospital admissions; 413 PICU unplanned emergency admissions requiring invasive mechanical ventilation; and 415 deaths during the lockdown study period and equivalent dates in previous years.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Rates of emergency care consultations, attendances and admissions; clinical severity scores on presentation to PICU; rates and causes of childhood death. For all data sets, rates during the lockdown period were compared with mean or aggregated rates for the equivalent dates in 2016-2019.

RESULTS: The rates of emergency presentations to primary and secondary care fell during lockdown in comparison to previous years. Emergency PICU admissions for children requiring invasive mechanical ventilation also fell as a proportion of cases for the entire population, with an OR of 0.52 for likelihood of admission during lockdown (95% CI 0.37 to 0.73), compared with the equivalent period in previous years. Clinical severity scores did not suggest children were presenting with more advanced disease. The greatest reduction in PICU admissions was for diseases of the respiratory system; those for injury, poisoning or other external causes were equivalent to previous years. Mortality during lockdown did not change significantly compared with 2016-2019.

CONCLUSIONS: National lockdown led to a reduction in paediatric emergency care utilisation, without associated evidence of severe harm.

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