There has been a dramatic rise in the number of children taken to A&E departments with common illnesses, research suggests.

Ten common medical problems account for 85 per cent of visits, including breathing difficulty, fever, diarrhoea with vomiting or without, rash and cough.

One expert said “patchy” out-of-hours care across England was fuelling the rise, with parents feeling they have nowhere else to turn than A&E.

He said the public was getting a “raw deal” and called for reform of the service.

In the latest study, experts from Nottingham Children’s Hospital and the University of Nottingham Medical School analysed records for children aged 15 and under attending Queen’s Medical Centre A&E in 2007-08.

These were compared with records for youngsters a decade earlier.

Overall, 14,724 children attended A&E with medical conditions, compared with 10,369 a decade earlier - an increase of 42 per cent.

The researchers said that while attendances to the paediatric A&E remained similar over the decade, this increase represented a “disproportionate rise in the number attending with medical conditions”.

College of Emergency Medicine president John Heyworth said the study provided extra evidence of the problems surrounding access to emergency care.

“Parents have found in the last few years that accessing primary care is more difficult than previously,” Mr Heyworth said.

“We need to change that.

“There’s a desperate need for better access in hours but particularly at weekends and evenings.

“Out-of-hours care is extremely variable in terms of promptness of response and the level of reassurance given to patients.”

A separate study published in the Emergency Medicine Journal found most children with head injuries are seen in hospitals that are not equipped to treat them.

More than 80 per cent of youngsters who turn up at A&E with head injuries are seen in hospitals that would need to transfer them if the injury was serious.

Around 210,000 children attend hospital every year with a head injury. Some 34,500 are admitted.

In the study, experts from the Centre for Maternal and Child Enquiries surveyed 245 hospitals in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

Overall, 87 per cent of hospitals - which see 82 per cent of children attending A&E with a head injury - could not care for a critically ill child on site.

“This will not be problematic for minor trauma (the vast majority), but those requiring intensive care and/or neurosurgical intervention then have to undergo further transfer, resulting in critical delay before definitive care with anticipated poorer outcome,” they said.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said of the report: “Our vision is to replace the ad-hoc, uncoordinated system that has developed over more than a decade, and has been characterised by poor quality and too much variation.”