COVID-19 pandemic experiences of parents caring for children with oesophageal atresia/tracheo-oesophageal fistula.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a global health crisis of unparalleled magnitude. The direct risk to the health of children is low. However, disease-containment measures have society-wide impacts. This study explored the pandemic experiences of parents of children with oesophageal atresia/tracheo-oesophageal fistula (OA/TOF) in the UK.A phenomenological approach underpinned use of an asynchronous online forum method, in collaboration with a patient support group. Data were evaluated using thematic analysis.The online forum ran between 7 November and 18 December 2020 with 109 participants.Pandemic experiences were divided into themes relating to healthcare and disease containment. Participants described positive experiences with remote healthcare but identified limitations. Delays and cancellations led to escalation of care to an emergency level, slower developmental progress and feelings of being abandoned by services. Inpatient care was perceived as safe but caring alone was emotionally and practically challenging. Disease containment themes revealed anxiety regarding health risks, ‘collateral’ damage to well-being because of isolation, and an impact on finances and employment. Parents described a transition from worry about direct health risks to concern about the impact of isolation on socialisation and development. A process of risk-benefit analysis led some to transition to a more ‘normal life’, while others continued to isolate. Benefits to their child’s health from isolation were reported.Parents’ experiences of caring for a child with OA/TOF during the pandemic were varied. Rapid adoption of telehealth has demonstrated the enormous potential of remote healthcare delivery but requires refinement to meet the needs of the individual. Future pandemic planning should aim to retain community healthcare services to avoid escalation of care to an emergency, manage chronic and developmental concerns, and support parental well-being. Accurate and consistent disease-specific information is highly valued by parents. Third sector organisations are ideally positioned to support this.

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Authors: Alexandra Stewart, Christina H Smith, Simon Eaton, Paolo De Coppi, Jo Wray