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In July 2006 the British Paediatric Surveillance Unit (BPSU) completed its twentieth year of surveillance into uncommon childhood disorders. During this period the BPSU has provided a mechanism to respond to acute public health events in children and has emerged from its small base to become a major contributor to paediatric medical epidemiology across the world. All this has been achieved by an efficient system that permits the simultaneous running of multiple surveys via the circulation of a monthly report card. These achievements are the result of a willingness by UK and Irish paediatricians to work in collaboration for the betterment of child health across the whole of the British Isles.
This short article reviews the development of the unit and how studies undertaken have impacted on public health.
In the 1970s the then British Paediatric Association (BPA) was growing rapidly through consultant expansion and realising that its mission was expanding from a membership organisation into a wider role in the promotion of child health. Simultaneously, the Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre (CDSC) of the Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS) in London headed by Dr Spence Galbraith needed to develop a system to speedily recognise and monitor newly emerging diseases, especially those which were infection associated but for which no specific diagnostic laboratory investigation was available. These conditions would not be readily identified by the PHLS (now the Health Protection Agency) laboratory reporting system.
Paediatricians had already been active in support of the collection of important data relevant to public health. In the early 1970s they had been invited to return information about cases of lead intoxication by Professor David Barltrop and colleagues at St Mary’s Hospital. In 1976–79 paediatricians in England, Scotland and Wales participated in …