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Intensive care units for children are at near full occupancy nationally due to a rise in RSV and other illnesses.

Paediatric ICUs have often been at greater than 95 per cent occupancy in recent weeks — with some units reporting 100 per cent occupancy.

High demand levels for PICUs have started earlier than usual this year, which paediatric doctors worry has left little head room ahead of a difficult winter.

The demand has already meant severely ill children have occasionally waited longer in local hospitals to be admitted to intensive care, and have more frequently been transferred out of region.

James Fraser, Paediatric Critical Care Society president, told HSJ paediatric intensive care units are “as pressurised as I can ever recall”.

Here to help

An HSJ investigation has for the first time revealed the 28 trusts which have received direct help from NHS England to improve their struggling maternity departments.

The programme, previously described by NHSE and the Department of Health and Social Care as NHSE’s “highest level of maternity-specific response,” was set up in 2018 and involves hands-on support for trusts from senior clinical leaders.

This year —2021-22 — there are 20 trusts receiving direct support from the scheme. This is the highest since it began, although NHSE said the entry criteria for the support programme was widened last year.

Three of the trusts — London North West University Healthcare Trust, Northern Lincolnshire and Goole Foundation Trust, and Worcestershire Acute Hospitals Trust — were on the scheme at the start, then supposedly improved, but are now receiving direct help from the programme again.

Shrewsbury and Telford and East Kent — which have been at the centre of major maternity scandals — have been on the improvement scheme for all four years.

Patient safety campaigners have called for greater transparency from the programme.