Background Wirral University Teaching Hospital is a large district general hospital situated on the Wirral peninsula, UK. Because of the district's geographical and demographic characteristics, Wirral is an ideal location for population-based studies.
Information on paediatric referrals, case mix and outcomes are scarce. We took advantage of our situation to conduct an epidemiological study of referrals to general paediatrics in Wirral in 1988 and again in 2006. A companion paper examines referrals to community paediatricians in the Department during the same period.
Methods A prospective observational study of general paediatric outpatient referrals between 1 Feb and 31 May 2006 compared with the same period in 1988, using the same methodology. We included all children under the age of 15 offered a new patient appointment during the study period.
Results The referral rate had increased significantly from 15.5 to 25.7 per thousand children under 15 per annum (P < 0.01; Chi Squared). The most common conditions referred in 2006 were constipation (10.5%) and enuresis (7%) compared with asthma (15%) and heart murmurs (13.8%) in 1988.
There were significantly fewer wasted appointments (5% vs. 12%), shorter waiting times (5% vs. 12% waited more than 12 weeks), faster treatment times (25% vs. 14% started treatment after the first appointment) and more discharges (41.2% vs. 30.5%) (all P < 0.01; Chi Squared).
Conclusions More children were referred to paediatricians in 2006 compares with 1988. Services worked more efficiently, with better attendance, access and time to treatment. We provide information on changes in case mix that is not available elsewhere. This population-based study thus gives a unique insight into changes in referrals to UK general paediatricians.