Emerg Med J doi:10.1136/emj.2010.106229
  • Original article

Medical problems presenting to paediatric emergency departments: 10 years on

Press Release
  1. Damian Wood1
  1. 1Nottingham Children's Hospital, Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, Queen's Medical Centre Campus, Nottingham, UK
  2. 2Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Nottingham Medical School, Queen's Medical Centre, Nottingham, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Dhurgshaarna Shanmugavadivel, Nottingham Childrens Hospital Ward E17, Queen's Medical Centre, Derby Road, Nottingham NG7 2UH, UK; shaarnashan{at}
  • Accepted 27 March 2011
  • Published Online First 23 May 2011


Objective To describe the common medical presenting problems of children attending a paediatric emergency department (ED) compared with 10 years previously.

Design A retrospective review of electronic patient record and comparison with previous cohort.

Setting A UK university hospital ED.

Patients A cohort of children and young people aged 0–15 years who attended the ED between 7 February 2007 and 6 February 2008 (n=39 394) compared with a historical cohort from 10 years earlier.

Main outcome measures and results Information on presenting problem, demographic data and source of referral were collected. Presenting problems were ranked and comparisons made with previous data using the difference between proportions analysis and the significance test for a difference in two proportions. A total of 39 394 children (57% boys) were seen with 14 724 medical attendances compared with 10 369 attendances from the 1997 cohort, an increase of 42%. Most (85%) ED attendances can be accounted for by the 10 most common presenting problems, including breathing difficulty (2494, 20.1%), febrile illness (1752, 14.1%), diarrhoea with or without vomiting (1731, 14.0%), rash (1066, 8.6%) and cough (835, 6.7%). Similar proportions are described to a decade earlier; however, there were fewer patients attending with breathing difficulty (−10.9%, p<0.001).

Conclusions Over a 10-year period, there has been a rise in the number of people attending the ED with medical conditions. The 10 most common presenting problems account for 85% of medical attendees. These results suggest the increasing utilisation of ED services for children with common medical presenting problems and should inform further research exploring the pathways for attendance and the thresholds in seeking medical advice in order to inform the commissioning of paediatric emergency and urgent care services.


  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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0.5% - 43% response rate
3% - 41% response rate
10% - 16% response rate

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