On Friday, I visited Birmingham Children’s Hospital to speak to staff, children and parents about the brilliant work that is done there. Led by the particularly dynamic CEO Sarah-Jane Marsh, it is one of the 27 specialised children’s hospitals in England. I was blown away the commitment of the hospital staff to putting children at the heart of everything they do.
Walking through the wards, I heard many professionals repeating the hospital mantra of meeting children where they are and doing everything possible to improve their lives. This was the case whether they were treating and managing long term health conditions in the cardiac ward or responding to mental health crises in the children’s A&E unit.
When I asked what challenges children face in relation to NHS treatment, most of the staff spoke of the feeling that children’s care is overlooked by national healthcare strategy. They spoke of how poor health can and does affect children differently to adults, and the consequent need for a distinctive approach. They also spoke of long waiting times in children’s services due to low prioritisation of this area. Early intervention, in every aspect of children’s healthcare from heart surgery to mental health support, is vital if we are to strive for all children to have the same start in life.
Talking to Tina, a consultant in A&E, and Lisa, heading up their children’s mental health team, I was stuck by the unofficial emergency access service they provide for children with mental health concerns. Lisa and Tina told me about countless cases of children showing up to A&E when they feel they have nowhere else to go and know they need support and care.
Clinicians also told me of their experience of the care system – the fourth emergency service. I was shocked to hear of stories of children in care, with nowhere else to go, being taken to their specialised A&E department by police, teachers, and sometimes by themselves. From here, these children had a safe place to stay until social services could provide them with an alternative. The hospital’s philosophy was that, although A&E is the wrong door for these children, they would do everything in their power to make it the right door if they came there. They promised to do this by supporting and listening to the young person whilst coordinating the children’s services around them.
Throughout the day, the message was loud and clear that we need more integrated children’s services. In order to provide the right healthcare for every single child in the UK, children’s services need to work together and keep the health and wellbeing of their children at the centre of all they do.
I want to say a huge thank you to everyone I met at Birmingham Children’s hospitals and all those behind the scenes that keep it running – I already can’t wait to return!