Aim: The COVID-19 pandemic and associated travel and social distancing restrictions have reduced paediatric intensive care unit admissions for respiratory illnesses. The effects on retrieval (transport) services remain unquantified. Our study examined the utility of statistical process control in assessing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the number of neonatal and paediatric transfers in an Australian retrieval service.
Methods: Data collected prospectively from the SA Ambulance Service MedSTAR Emergency Retrieval database in South Australia were analysed from January 2015 to June 2021. Statistical process control methodology, a combination of a time series analysis and assessment for common and special cause variation, was used to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on retrieval workload (primary outcome of interest).
Results: A total of 5659 neonatal and paediatric transfers occurred during the study period and were included. A significant decrease in paediatric transfers occurred after the initial lockdown measures in March 2020 were announced in South Australia (special cause variation). However, a similar reduction was not observed for neonatal transfers (common cause variation).
Conclusion: Our study demonstrates that statistical process control may be effectively used to understand the effects of external events and processes on usual activity patterns in the retrieval setting. We found a reduction in retrieval numbers for paediatric transfers but no effect on neonatal transfer numbers. The decline in paediatric transfers was primarily attributed to reduced respiratory cases.