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Are more children being hospitalised with Covid? Leading children’s doctor doubts Humza Yousaf’s claim

Dr Steve Turner, registrar at the RCPCH at Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital
Dr Steve Turner, registrar at the RCPCH at Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital

A leading children’s doctor has said there is no evidence increasing numbers of kids are being hospitalised with Covid-19 despite claims by Scotland’s ministers.

New health secretary Humza Yousaf said that, as of last week, 10 children aged nine or under were in hospital “because of Covid” leading to fears the virus is becoming more dangerous to youngsters.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney says the unpublished figure is “on the high side” and raised concern there could be “something in the new variants” that make them “more acutely challenging” for children.

But when asked if this really is a concern, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) poured cold water on the claim.

Health secretary Humza Yousaf.

Dr Steve Turner, registrar at the RCPCH at Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital, said: “As it stands there are very few children in hospital in Scotland and across the whole of the UK due to Covid.

“We’re not seeing any evidence of an increase in paediatric admissions with Covid.

“A very small number of admissions who test positive for Covid is what we’d expect.”

Other reasons for admission

“Our experience over the last 15 months is that many children who test positive have come into hospital for something else, like broken bones.”

Serious illness in children who contract the virus is considered very rare and the vast majority have just mild symptoms.

Of all children 14 or under to contract the virus since the pandemic began, just 387 have been so unwell they were hospitalised, as at May 26 this year.

This works out at a tiny fraction of all admissions at just 1.55%.

At the end of last week the total number receiving hospital treatment in the country was 90, meaning if Mr Yousaf’s figure is correct then at least 10% of hospitalisations are children.

It would mean the percentage of Covid-19 hospital admissions who are children is at the highest-ever level.

Dr Steve Turner added: “At the moment the situation in the UK is stable.

“The number of children in hospital with Covid remains very low.

“Children’s wards are not seeing a rise in cases with Covid. Parents shouldn’t worry.”

Radio interview causes panic

Mr Yousaf was speaking during a radio interview on Wednesday when he was asked about the reopening of soft play centres in regions which are moving to Level 1 status.

He stated there were 10 children aged 0-9 hospitalised because of Covid last week, adding travel from a Level 2 area to soft play area in a Level 1 area “could lead to hospitalisation of children”.

The comments have caused huge concern among parents and carers.

Scottish Labour MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife Claire Baker said Mr Yousaf’s comments are “alarmist”.

Scottish Labour MSP Claire Baker.

She said: “These comments from the Health Secretary have already caused a great deal of concern for parents, carers and the owners of businesses and the Scottish Governments needs to urgently provide clarification as to the basis for them and the potential implications for businesses and families.

“For the health secretary to say that parents taking children to soft play areas in another area, which is completely within the restrictions in place, are risking the hospitalisation of children is alarmist and should not be left unexplained.

“If increased numbers of young children are being hospitalised because of Covid, we need to see swift action to assess the risks of new variants and steps taken to mitigate these.”

Source of admissions data unclear

Information is not routinely published on the ages of patients currently in hospital because of Covid-19 so there is no official public data to further explore.

The Scottish Government has been asked to clarify whether the 10 children quoted by Mr Yousaf have been hospitalised due to Covid or whether the reason for treatment was something else.

In response, the Scottish Government said the figures quoted by Mr Yousaf come from a table being published on June 3 as “management information” on the organisation’s website.

A spokesperson said: “For the children who have been hospitalised, and their families, this will clearly be a worrying time but our NHS will deliver them the best care possible.

“With PHS we continue to monitor the numbers of patients hospitalised and who have tested positive for Covid-19.

“PHS are now working to publish data on the age ranges of those hospitalised on either a weekly or daily basis, in addition to the data they already publish on this issue.

“As the effect of the vaccine is felt there has been an expected increase in the proportion of hospitalisations that are from younger age groups – as older age groups who are most at risk from serious consequences from the virus have increased protection as a result of vaccination.

“Levels of Covid-19 in the community are markedly lower than at the turn of the year which has the welcome result that overall hospitalisation has reduced since that point.“

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