Meningitis group wants ill children to stay longer in hospital under observation

Poorly children should be kept in hospital under observation for longer so those with meningitis are not sent home by accident, a charity has said.

Steve Dayman, founder of the charity Meningitis Now, said parents may ignore worsening symptoms if they have been told their child is not seriously ill.

Giving evidence to MPs from the Petitions Committee and the Health Committee, Mr Dayman, whose baby son Spencer died from meningitis in 1982, said: "Parents know their children best.

"None of us seek medical advice unless we are really concerned, especially with a young child. That is something that, all the way through the health system, should be recognised. 

"We don't go to the doctors because we don't want to make a nuisance of ourselves.

"Children should be kept in hospital longer for observation.

"We all want to hear 'it's not meningitis, don't worry' and we'd then go home in a false sense of security, our loved one gets worse and we think 'let's just hang on a bit longer because the health professional said it wasn't serious' and by the time we get back to hospital it is too late." 

Mr Dayman also called for GPs to be reminded annually about the condition.

He said: "Before the Men C vaccine was introduced in 1999 - there was a catch up period right up to the age of 24 with that vaccine - the Chief Medical Officer used to write to every GP in the country every September reminding them that we were now entering the meningococcal season.

"That stopped happening after the Men C vaccine was introduced but perhaps that is something that should be re-introduced with information from the charities as well."

Meanwhile, Vinny Smith, chief executive of the Meningitis Research Foundation, said no matter how much awareness is raised about the disease, the best way to protect the community is through vaccination.

Meningitis is a "fiendishly difficult" disease to detect and it had rapid onset, he added.

"No matter how much we raise awareness with health professionals and no matter how much we do to improve diagnosis and treatment and no matter how much we educate parents, this is a fiendishly difficult disease to detect," he said.

"It often looks like flu. It has rapid onset and no matter how quickly you respond to that you might be able to do nothing about it. 

"So the most important thing to help make sure we don't have the tragic stories that we had last week is to protect people up front. The only way to do that is vaccines."

The charities told MPs that all under fives should be given the Meningitis B vaccine.

The burden of disease is greatest among this age group, said Sue Davie, chief executive of Meningitis Now.

"We do support the call to extend it," said Ms Davie.

"Ever since we knew the vaccine would be available back in January 2013 when it was licenced, we have been calling for under fives, as the most at-risk group, to be protected.

"The burden of disease is greatest among under fives."

She said the charity was supportive of a call for studies into whether it would be effective to offer the vaccine to teenagers.

The hearing was called after more than 823,000 people signed a petition calling for all children to be given the meningitis B vaccine.

The petition became the most-signed online petition in parliamentary history after the parents of a toddler who died from the disease shared a shocking image of the youngster covered in a rash and lying in a hospital bed just before she died.

Two-year-old Faye Burdett, from Maidstone, Kent, caught the infection and died on Valentine's Day after an 11-day battle.

Last week her parents told MPs there are "issues" with diagnosing the disease.

Neil and Jenny Burdett said they were ''not taken seriously'' by a ''dismissive'' health worker and were sent home from hospital diagnosed with a viral infection.

Mr Burdett said his daughter would still be alive if she had not been misdiagnosed.

The Government has rejected the calls for the vaccine to be offered to all children, saying the NHS budget is a ''finite resource''.

The Department of Health said its priority is to vaccinate those children considered most at risk from meningitis B.

It said it is following guidance from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises the Government on the cost-effectiveness of vaccinations.

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