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Most children who die in the UK have an underlying chronic illness, and the majority of these deaths take place in a paediatric intensive care unit (PICU).1 The overall community burden of paediatric chronic illness is increasing as the population expands and as children with chronic conditions live longer. Improvements in public health measures, and in the recognition and management of paediatric critical illness, mean that children with chronic conditions are increasingly the majority population in PICU.
Plunkett and Parslow describe a shift in the timing of death in PICUs in England and Wales over the last decade.2 They observed an increase in the average length of stay for children who died (about 3 days longer, on average, in 2013 than in 2003) and a corresponding increase in the proportion of children dying after more than 4 weeks of intensive care; in 2013, approximately 12% of deaths in PICU occurred late (after 28 days), compared with only about 8% a decade earlier.
What should we make of this finding? Does it represent a failure of end-of-life decision-making? Plunkett and Parslow point to this, suggesting that children with life-limiting illnesses are now dying after a long PICU admission rather than experiencing an early death in PICU. The authors …