Victoria's two main children's hospitals have been swamped with sick children this year, prompting calls for more paediatric resources to be added to the system before the new Monash Children's Hospital opens in 2017.
There are also concerns some children are being taken to the Royal Children's Hospital and Monash Children's in Clayton when they could have been cared for by GPs and other hospitals closer to their homes.
Hospital data shows demand for emergency care at the two tertiary paediatric centres jumped between 6 and 11 per cent this year compared to last year. The surge has been linked to one child waiting in the RCH's emergency department for longer than 24 hours before being admitted to a bed earlier this year.
In a statement on the RCH's website about the incident, director of emergency medicine Dr Ed Oakley said on busy days other patients had waited 18 hours for admission to a bed. He said emergency departments relied on the availability of wards and operating theatres to run efficiently.
''When families arrive at Emergency they expect prompt care for their child. Despite the best efforts of staff, we can't always ensure patients are seen by a doctor or progress to a ward bed in a timely manner,'' he said.
''This is not great care from our perspective.''
Dr Oakley reminded families to think about care close to their homes because he said some were bypassing GPs and driving past four or five hospitals with emergency departments to get to the RCH.
Dr John Cheek, an emergency physician at both hospitals, said given that demand was rapidly outpacing population growth, more resources would be required to care for children before the new Monash Children's Hospital opens in 2017.
''We need to resource emergency departments to deliver care to an ever increasing proportion of the population,'' he said.
However, Dr Cheek said a study of about 1000 children attending Monash Children's emergency department in October found dozens of them could have been cared for by GPs. He said of 333 children who were taken straight to hospital without consulting a GP, emergency physicians thought half of them could have been cared for by a GP.
While about 100 parents in the study said they had taken their child to hospital because they could not get into a GP, Dr Cheek said most parents thought their children were too sick for a GP anyway. ''Parents are choosing the emergency department because they feel their children are sick and that that's where they need to go,'' he said.
''You could make an argument that part of the solution might be a community message about seeking appropriate levels of care. But I think it's very difficult to tell a parent who is very worried about their child that they need to go somewhere else.''
He said the study also revealed that definitions of ''GP type patients'' used by governments did not often match emergency physicians' views of children's needs. He said this needed to be understood to avoid bad policy decisions.
''ED clinicians think about one-third of ''GP type'' paediatric patients needed to be managed in Emergency,'' he said.
A spokesman for the Victorian government said both hospitals were receiving increased funding to meet demand and that it was working with the Commonwealth to improve the availability of GP care.