During March of 2020 in Italy, paediatric emergency department (ED) visits decreased 73-88 per cent.
The national lockdown since 1 March may have resulted in less acute infections and accidents. However, this decrease in ED access reflects also a scarcity of medical resources and parent’s or caregiver’s fear of COVID-19. This approach could be harmful to children’s health and special needs children could be at an even higher risk. In five Italian hospitals, there were 12 cases of delayed access between 23-27 March:
- Five contacted health services but their physicians were unavailable or hospital access was discouraged.
- Six had special needs (cancer, cerebral palsy, other syndromes).
- Six needed intensive care.
- Four died.
- None were positive for SARS-CoV-2 or did not justify testing.
Notably, no deaths occurred in the same period in 2019. Usually, the number is 0 to 3 deaths yearly.
Although this is a small sample, it exemplifies the overall public health impact of the pandemic and highlights that further monitoring of access and coordinated care are necessary to prevent delays.
Clear guidelines should be given to health providers, and parents should be especially aware that the risk of delayed access for emergency conditions can be much higher than that of COVID-19.