Many units, including Leeds General Infirmary, failed to meet the minimum nursing levels recommended by the UK Paediatric Intensive Care Society, the report found.
However, despite the pressures, only a small number of children died while in intensive care, less than four per cent, and that figure has remained stable.
The picture of a system under strain emerged from the latest annual report from the Paediatric Intensive Care Audit Network (PICANet) – a collaboration between the Universities of Leeds and Leicester, commissioned by the Healthcare Quality Improvement Partnership (HQIP). The audit received data from 34 paediatric intensive care units (PICUs) and 11 specialist critical care transport organisations across the UK and Ireland, with the figures relating to 2016.
The findings showed that 20,231 children were admitted to a specialist intensive care unit last year – a slight rise on the previous year. The audit team asked the units to provide details of the number of qualified nursing staff on duty at four time points during November 2016. The recommended standard set by the UK Paediatric Intensive Care Society was to have seven full-time equivalent nurses for each occupied bed.
However, many PICUs failed to meet this target, with Leeds General Infirmary recording just over five.
Co-author of the audit report, Dr Roger Parslow from the School of Medicine at the University of Leeds, said: “The whole picture is one of a service under pressure so it is a credit to those working in paediatric intensive care that mortality continues to remain low and children remain well cared for.”