Short stay hospital admissions for an acutely unwell child: a qualitative study of outcomes that matter to parents and professionals

Cari Malcolm* (Corresponding Author), Emma King, Emma France, Richard Kyle, Simita Kumar, Smita Dick, Philip Wilson, Lorna Aucott, Steve Turner, Pat Hoddinott

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Numbers of urgent short stay admissions (SSAs) of children to UK hospitals are rising rapidly. This paper reports on experiences of SSAs from the perspective of parents accessing urgent care for their acutely unwell child and of health professionals referring, caring for, or admitting children.

A qualitative interview study was conducted by a multi-disciplinary team with patient and public involvement (PPI) to explore contextual factors relating to SSAs and better understand pre-hospital urgent care pathways. Purposive sampling of Health Board areas in Scotland, health professionals with experience of paediatric urgent care pathways and parents with experience of a SSA for their acutely unwell child was undertaken to ensure maximal variation in characteristics such as deprivation, urban-rural and hospital structure. Interviews took place between Dec 2019 and Mar 2021 and thematic framework analysis was applied.

Twenty-one parents and forty-eight health professionals were interviewed. In the context of an urgent SSA, the themes were centred around shared outcomes of care that matter. The main outcome which was common to both parents and health professionals was the importance of preserving the child’s safety. Additional shared outcomes by parents and health professionals were a desire to reduce worries and uncertainty about the illness trajectory, and provide reassurance with sufficient time, space and personnel to undertake a period of skilled observation to assess and manage the acutely unwell child. Parents wanted easy access to urgent care and, preferably, with input from paediatric-trained staff. Healthcare professionals considered that it was important to reduce the number of children admitted to hospital where safe and appropriate to do so.

The shared outcomes of care between parents and health professionals emphasises the potential merit of adopting a partnership approach in identifying, developing and testing interventions to improve the acceptability, safety, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness of urgent care pathways between home and hospital.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0278777
Number of pages23
JournalPloS ONE
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 16 Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding: The study was funded by the Chief Scientist Office (CSO) Scotland [Grant Number HIPS/18/09]. The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the National Health Service or CSO. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Data Availability Statement

Data Availability: The qualitative data collected and analysed during this study are not publicly available due to privacy issues. We are not able to share this data as they contain potentially identifying and sensitive participant information. Moreover, participants were not informed and did not give consent for their transcripts to be shared in a public repository. Queries regarding data access may be directed to the authors or the research governance team (


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