A paediatrician at Starship Children's Hospital is warning a third wave of sick children will overwhelm the nation’s already struggling hospitals.
Dr Cameron Grant says two waves have hit, and another threatens. “I feel frightened because I know once it starts you can't stop it. But you can try and do something about it before it starts.”
He says the wave of adolescents presenting with “really serious mental health problems” is still surging. As is a wave of RSV infections which are overwhelming hospitals.
“Telling a family a baby is going to die is horrible.”
Around the corner is a vaccine-preventable disease wave of whooping cough and measles, he says.
He sees immunisation as the next big worry.
“Coverage is much lower now than it used to be and when that happens we will get epidemics of whooping cough and epidemics of measles. They will happen and they will be large and they will kill children.”
“It is just so distressing and the parents are traumatised, absolutely frightened their babies are going to die, unable to sleep because they are just terrified.”
“Whooping cough is generally worse when you're asleep, it's ghastly.”
Starship has also been dealing with a surge in young mental health patients. It has 180 inpatient beds, but roughly three times the number of children presenting in the months following the pandemic.
“They come into hospital because maybe they've lost so much weight they are medically unstable, they have very, very low temperatures and heartrates. They could have heart arrhythmia and die or they're so distressed that they're harming themselves and they could potentially kill themselves.”
“I think Covid has bought them to the fore. It's created a situation where young people have lost their social contacts by schools being locked down and changes in our social behaviours.”
Grant says staff are working as hard as they can.
“The intensive care units are full. Operating theatre units are being used to look after the intensive cases because there's no beds in the intensive care units.”
“Starship is full. It's wanting to send babies back to other hospitals but they’re also full.”
“It's very difficult everyone is just working as hard as they can to just try and keep all these little babies alive at the moment. It’s very stressful.”
He says the health system has a window of opportunity for reforms.
“Now is the time to be doing it because my goodness we need to do it.”
“I think we have to really focus on a health system that delivers excellent health to vulnerable children and really has some priority for health.”