Deaths in children's intensive care at 'all time low'
Death rates in children's intensive care units are at an all-time low despite increasing admissions, a report has shown.
The Paediatric Intensive Care Audit Network found the death rate was 3.8% in 2012 - despite admissions rising 5% from 18,596 in 2011 to 19,516 in 2012.
But it warned out-of-hours staffing levels were often not being met.
Experts said children should have the best care, whatever time of day or night they were admitted.
The analysis was carried out by a team from the University of Leeds and the University of Leicester who looked at data on admissions, diagnosis, length of stay and outcomes - as well as staffing levels.
Altogether they looked at details of more than 59,000 admissions to paediatric intensive care units in the UK and Ireland from 2010 to 2012.
Just under a third of patients stayed in intensive care for less than 24 hours, while 17% stayed for more than a week.
Dr Roger Parslow, from the Faculty of Medicine and Health at the University of Leeds who was part of the research team, said: "With increasing birth rates, the pressure on the paediatric intensive care service has increased but it is clear that standards of care are not dropping in relation to mortality.
The analysis found 90% of units had the required level of medical staffing during the day - one consultant for eight to 10 beds. However, only 60% of units had the required level of cover at night and at the weekends.
Fewer than three quarters of units have adequate nurse staffing levels, with many using agency staff to make up numbers when necessary.
Dr Hilary Cass, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, welcomed the report.
She said: "It is encouraging to see that death rates in children's intensive care units are at an all-time low, despite the number of admissions rising by 5%.
"However, it is clear from today's report, that maintaining adequate levels of staffing through the night remains a concern, with just 60% of units having the recommended level of cover.
"Children deserve the same high level of care whatever time of day or night they are admitted to hospital, whether that be Monday at 5pm or Sunday at 3am.
"So while this report does show improvements, we must not be complacent.
"We must continue to look at ways to improve children's health services by rolling out models of care which we know will provide children with a much better NHS - increasing the consultant workforce so we can provide consultant-led care, which in turn, will drive up quality and save even more lives."