Uncertainty and anxiety surround parents' decisions to seek medical help for an acutely ill child. Consultation rates for children are rising, yet little is known about factors that influence parents' help-seeking behaviours. We used focus groups and interviews to examine how 27 parents of children under five years, from a range of socioeconomic groups in the East Midlands of England, use information to make decisions during acute childhood illness at home. This article reports findings elucidating factors that influence help-seeking behaviours. Parents reported that decision-making during acute childhood illness was influenced by a range of personal, social and health service factors. Principal among these was parents' concern to do the right thing for their child. Their ability to assess the severity of the illness was influenced by knowledge and experience of childhood illness. When parents were unable to access their general practitioner (GP), feared criticism from or had lost trust in their GP, some parents reported using services elsewhere such as Accident and Emergency. These findings contribute to explanatory theory concerning parents' help-seeking behaviours. Professional and political solutions have not reduced demand; therefore, collaborative approaches involving the public and professionals are now needed to improve parents' access to information.
Keywords: Acute illness; childhood; help-seeking behaviour; parents; safety netting.
© The Author(s) 2014.