Sarah Newton: Train parents to spot serious illness and take action

Posted On: 
1st April 2019

It is vital that parents and carers have the skills and knowledge to spot when their baby or child is sick, writes Sarah Newton

“I want the government to enable every parent or carer to have access to high quality evidence-based training”, writes Sarah Newton
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I want to enable every new parent to receive high quality training so that they are equipped to identify serious illness in their child and take appropriate action. This will build on the work that we have done to reduce avoidable deaths and injury from Sepsis.

The Sepsis Trust continue to do excellent work, with Sepsis awareness being spread to our local ambulance service and into our nursery and primary school workforce. Now is the time to properly empower parents to spot the signs of not only Sepsis but other serious illnesses.

Child and adolescent health in the UK has improved dramatically over the past 30 years. Despite this, in 2017 just under 3,000 babies died before their first birthday and 1,707 children and young people died between the ages of one and 19.

Recent estimates from the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health suggest that 21% of child deaths involved ‘modifiable factors’ – something could possibly have been done to prevent death.

They conclude that giving children and families the tools they need is critical. We should prioritise prevention and equip them with the knowledge and skill that enable them to better protect their own.

The Confidential Enquiry into Maternal and Child Health in England, which conducted a meticulous audit into deaths of babies and children, reported identifiable failures in children’s direct care in just over a quarter of deaths, and potentially avoidable factors in a further 43% of deaths.

The University of Northampton’s 2017 report, Before Arrival at Hospital: Factors affecting timing of admission to hospital with serious infectious illness, stated that parents often find it difficult to access relevant health information or to interpret symptoms. Also, that it can even be difficult for GPs to determine how serious a case is in the early stages.

It is paramount that parents and carers have adequate knowledge and the skills to spot when their baby or child is sick, how to escalate their concerns and if necessary, challenge a decision made by a healthcare professional.

I have been working with Cornwall Resus, which was initially established in 2012 by two paediatric nurses to inform parents and carers of the necessary skills needed to empower them to recognise when their baby or child is unwell and to respond appropriately.

They run parents' courses in community centres around Cornwall that last 2-2.5 hours, including practical training on choking and resuscitation using lifelike dummies and allowing lots of time for questions and discussion at the end. It costs £30.00 per person. They have done two courses per month for the last five years with between eight to 14 people per session. They have great feedback from parents and carers who say they feel more confident as well as from local GPs.

Every parent and carer should have the opportunity to access similar training, and while £30 is a modest investment, it will be a barrier to some parents. I want the government to enable every parent or carer to have access to high quality evidence-based training, delivered by appropriate providers. I believe that this may help to reduce morbidity, mortality and very importantly, family distress, as well as helping to tackle the associated cost of treatment, hospital admissions and possible litigation. I also think it will reduce demand on the NHS.

The NHS is rightly focussed on prevention of ill health and injury, so I am encouraging the Government to provide funding to enable a small group of local NHS commissioning groups to pilot the provision of infant first aid for all parents and collect comprehensive data to ascertain its effectiveness.

Sarah Newton is Conservative MP for Truro and Falmouth. Her Westminster Hall debate takes place on Wednesday 3 April