Thousands of seriously ill children are being left at risk because of shortages of vital ventilator equipment, a charity has warned.
WellChild, the national charity for sick children, said around 3,000 families with children who use ventilators are facing shortages of pieces of equipment that need to be regularly replaced.
The shortage of the items such as bacterial filters and tubes means some parents are being told to use them for longer than recommended - sometimes up to twice the amount of time.
Concerned parents fear such shortages could cause infection, which in turn could lead to potential hospital stays, long-term damage to the child’s health or even death.
The situation has echoes of previous concerns over medical equipment shortages earlier this year at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
Dawn Lossau, 48, from Norfolk, said she is struggling with a shortage of valves and circuits for the ventilator used by her 15-year-old daughter Maisie.
Maisie has used a ventilator for the last four years after surgery to remove a brain tumour left her paralysed.
Parts of the equipment are normally changed daily or once a week but some are now being replaced either every three to four days or once a fortnight.
Her mum told the PA news agency: “There’s only so much recycling you can do with medical equipment, it’s sterile for a reason, to protect the people who are using it.
“There’s nothing I can do to make this situation better. It’s not like I can nip down the supermarket and buy them, this is specialist equipment that should never run out.”
Lossau also voiced concerns that a second spike of coronavirus could make the situation even worse.
“If Maisie picks up a chest infection, it’s not just a straightforward ‘let’s give her some antibiotics and not worry about it’, she added.
“It can result in an emergency stay in hospital and Maisie has to go into intensive care because of her situation.
“Not having those supplies means we will be putting extra pressure on the NHS resources to have Maisie admitted to hospital for an infection that takes resources to treat and can be life-threatening.
“This is life and death for us and for lots of other families and it’s not just about children, there are adults out there that will be facing the exact same thing.”
Tara Parker, clinical director of programmes for WellChild, urged the government to ring-fence and secure the supply of consumable ventilator parts for families like the Lossaus, particularly ahead of winter.
She said: “Because children haven’t been massively at risk of Covid, I think we might have underestimated the collateral damage to children, particularly in very vulnerable groups.
“The fundamentals of it are there just aren’t the parts, there’s a global demand and I suppose the biggest question we would raise as a charity is why was that stock not protected? I’m quite fearful going into the winter about what’s going to happen.”
The Department of Health and Social Care said it is monitoring shortages of equipment, as well as securing supplies.
A spokesman said: “We understand how challenging this period is and we are doing everything we can to support patients, led by clinical advice.
“Covid-19 has caused a significant increase in demand for clinical consumables and has disrupted international supply chains.
“We have put in place a range of measures to address these challenges, including making it easier for clinicians to report shortages and identifying opportunities to open up new supply options and using additional brands.”