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A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to visit Great Ormond Street Hospital and meet some of the amazing and brave children and young people there, as well as the staff in charge of their care.

I had been wanting to go for a long time and feel incredibly fortunate that my first visit is as Children’s Commissioner rather than as a parent or someone looking after a child receiving care or treatment there. I initially wasn’t going to write about my visit. It was a private visit to speak to children, including those who have arrived here from Ukraine. I wanted to understand better from the doctors and nurses their work to care for children, see for myself the facilities there that help treat so many children, and help many through some really difficult times.

Since my visit, though, I have reflected on some of the things I saw, some of the children I met, some of the stories they told me. I feel inspired to articulate some of those reflections, to shine a light on the amazing work that goes on at GOSH and all they do to support children in need of medical care.

My first reflection was that whilst the building and facilities are undoubtedly world class, the thing that really defines GOSH, is the spirit of the children, families, and staff. Many of them are facing unthinkable situations and yet the courage they show is astounding. I really want to pay testament to all I met. We cannot underestimate the difference these dedicated doctors, nurses and other support staff make to children’s lives. Thank you for everything you have done and continue to do.

My second reflection was that it is a real example of speaking and listening to what children need from their lived environment. For the children, there were child-sized pews in the Chapel, hand-painted covid screens covered in butterflies to make the space less daunting, there were wards named after animals or the environment rather than using grown-up words, and fold out beds in the bays so that parents can stay the night.

Everything had been thought about and designed around the child and their experiences of being cared for there. It was an important reminder that we should involve children’s views and voices not only in policy design, delivery, and evaluation, but also in practical and tangible things that affect their experiences of services.

The last reflection I had was the incredible way everyone at GOSH has coalesced around supporting the children arriving from Ukraine. I was lucky enough to spend some time with a family who were receiving treatment here. Their story was hard to comprehend, almost too difficult to imagine the trauma and adversity they have faced. But the care they were receiving, not just in medical terms, but also pastoral and practical, was amazing. We should be rightly proud of the way GOSH, and other hospitals, schools and local authorities are responding to the crisis in Ukraine. It is making such a difference.

On a daily basis GOSH supports children and families who are facing the most difficult of circumstances, I offer my full thanks and praise to the staff who do so much.

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