Half of NHS hospitals do not have the facilities or staff to provide emergency surgery for children, according to findings from the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS).
A lack of experienced surgeons and anaesthetists at district hospitals means that sick children are being driven miles to remote specialist centres, it says.
Only 148 out of 305 district general hospitals in England are able to conduct general paediatric surgery in children of all ages.
Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Su-Anna Boddy, chairman of the Children's Surgical Forum at the RCS, said the problem was growing as the experienced surgeons who tended to operate on children retired.
This was having a knock-on effect in Britain's 27 specialist children's centres, with beds taken up by children who should have been treated in district hospitals, she said.
'Children are 25 per cent of the population, and the whole thing has got to be worked out and not just done on an ad hoc basis,' she said.
Hospitals need to put greater emphasis on training surgeons and anaesthetists to be able to work on children, especially the very young, she added.
Have you had to take your child miles away to be treated in an emergency? We want to hear your views and experiences.
Have you had problems getting your child treated in an emergency? We want to hear your views.