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Sunday, 18 April 2021
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BBC programme was wrong to claim there were whole wards of children with COVID-19

A complaint raised against the BBC programme, Chiles on Friday, Radio 5 Live (aired 1 Jan 2021), has been upheld after the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health responded to claims made on the show that hospital wards were full of sick children with COVID-19 in January – this was not the case. 

A listener complained that it referred to children with COVID-19 in terms that were at odds with what was known about the general incidence and severity of COVID-19 infections among the young, and which would have raised unnecessary concern among parents and potentially affected the ongoing debate about school closures at the time.

The following day, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health’s President and members were quick to respond publicly to the reports’ claims.

Professor Russell Viner, President of RCPCH, said:

“Children’s wards are usually busy in winter. As of now, we do not see significant pressure from COVID-19 in paediatrics across the UK. As cases in the community rise, there will be a small increase in the number of children we see with COVID-19, but the overwhelming majority of children and young people have no symptoms or very mild illness only. The new variant appears to affect all ages and, as yet, we are not seeing any greater severity amongst children and young people.”

Dr Ronny Cheung, Consultant Paediatrician, Evelina Children’s Hospital, London:

“I’ve been the on-call consultant in a London children’s hospital this week. COVID is rife in hospitals, but not among children – and that is corroborated by my colleagues across London.”

Dr Liz Whittaker, Consultant Paediatrician, St Mary’s Hospital London:

“There are lots of children with COVID positive tests, but thankfully only small numbers with severe disease or PIMS (the rare inflammatory disease associated with COVID), and these are within expected levels – given the London rates. I continue to worry for my elders, not my kids.”

Dr Damian Roland, Consultant Paediatrician, University Hospitals of Leicester:

“I think it’s important all in child health make absolutely clear we are not seeing a nationwide wave of COVID-19 induced illness in children.”

Dr Lee Hudson, Clinical Associate Professor at the GOS UCL Institute of Child Health and Consultant Paediatrician, GOSH:

“Paediatric colleagues across London tell me they are not seeing higher rates of sick children because of COVID this time. But as we’ve said to parents throughout, please don’t be afraid to seek medical help if you are worried about your children.”

Outcome

The Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) noted that the programme-makers had not sought to establish the number of children involved or the severity of their symptoms. The ECU also stated it was concerned that remarks on a topic of much concern to parents, which appeared at odds with what was generally understood to be the case, had been included in the broadcast without more scrutiny (and further circulated on Twitter).  

In concluding, the ECU said the inaccurate impression had not been addressed.

As a result, the complaint was upheld in March 2021.

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