NHS England is to introduce a new warning system to prevent ‘avoidable’ child deaths. The system will monitor any deterioration in a child’s condition and encourage clinicians to act on parental concerns. Health Minister Maria Caulfield said, ‘it’s vital to give parents a voice when it comes to the care of their child and so it will be reassuring to families that as part of this system, parents will be heard.’
The Paediatric Early Warning System (PEWS) will track any deterioration in a child’s condition through measurement of blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen levels and levels of consciousness. However, if a parent voices concern over their child’s condition, care will be rapidly escalated. NHS national medical director, Professor Sir Stephen Powis said that the new system puts parents ‘right at the heart’ of their child’s care. He said, ‘we know that nobody can spot the signs of a child getting sicker better than their parents’.
The new system arrives in the wake of calls to enhance parents’ rights to a second opinion. Known as Martha’s rule, it is the result of a campaign by the mother of 13-year-old Martha Mills, who passed away after failure to treat her sepsis, despite her parents’ repeated concerns over her condition. An inquest found that her death was preventable. In the UK, 5 people die from sepsis every hour, and awareness of it remains poor. Dr Ron Daniels, Founder and Chief Executive of UK Sepsis Trust, said he welcomes the implementation of PEWS as it ‘allows standardisation of language and communication between organisations’.
But he acknowledged that PEWS is only part of the process for better health care for children. He said, ‘Organisations must adopt a culture in which escalation of concern to senior colleagues is encouraged, and in which clinical staff are empowered to listen to families' concerns.’
The system has been in the works for the last three years, with pilots organised by NHS England and the Royal College of Paediatric and Child Health and the Royal College of Nursing running across 15 sites. Currently, the initial roll out of PEWS will only take place in hospitals, but the Chief Nursing Officer for England hopes it will be extended to A&E departments and primary health care settings in the future.