Children on brink of care revolution; Noah's Ark Appeal gathers pace on back of Assembly cash pledge In the second article in HealthWatch, a series on care at the frontline of the NHS, Felicity Morgan looks at the case for a children's hospital for Wales and talks to the mother of a sick child who has been in and out of children's wards for the best part of 12 years.
BEING in hospital and undergoing treatment is a daunting experience for most adults.
For many children it is probably quite terrifying.
Wales is currently the only country in Europe not to have its own dedicated children's facility, a position described as shameful by the Lord Mayor of Cardiff Russell Goodway last week.
What we do have however are worldclass doctors and nurses who are looking after children in difficult conditions and who are finding it increasingly hard to provide the service they are capable of.
This month's announcement by Health Minister Jane Hutt that the Assembly will unlock pounds 4.5m for the Children's Hospital once the public appeal has raised the first pounds 5m has come as welcome news as the campaign has gathered pace.
Voices calling for a dedicated facility have grown louder in recent years, particularly following the heart babies scandal in Bristol and concerns surrounding inadequate paediatric facilities at Wales's biggest hospital in Cardiff.
Sue Turner, whose 12-year-old son Thomas has been a regular patient at the children's unit at the University Hospital of Wales described the unsuitability of the present facilities.
She said, "Thomas has cerebral palsy and has been in and out of the unit all his life. Though the care is excellent, the buildings and accommodation are in a dire state, " she said.
"Staffing levels are very poor and nurses have to rely on mums to be there all the time to be on hand to care for their children.
"It's very difficult looking after our other two children when we're seeing to Tom because there's no creche or anything."
Thomas spent 12 months out of 18 in hospital when he was just five years old and his mum described the regular stays as "daunting".
"Seeing a little boy in a recovery room surrounded by grey walls and sick adults is heart-wrenching. He's been through such a lot as it is. Conditions are not adequate and there's nowhere for us to stay overnight to be with him, " she said.
Lisa Jenkins, senior staff nurse at UHW, also emphasised the need for a childfriendly environment.
"Adults in hospital can be given painkillers by mouth and by intravenous injections. With children, and with very small children in particular, we have to rely on the environment and diversional therapy. At the moment we do not have enough space, and children find themselves in what is very much an adult and unfriendly environment.
"One obvious example is the journey children have to make to the operating theatre. At the moment the children's wards are situated on one of the lower ground floors of the hospital.
"The operating theatre is on the fourth floor and children are taken on a trolley along what must seem like miles of congested corridor and then up floors in a massive and busy lift. For some it can be a very scary experience."
The Noah's Ark Appeal was launched 13 months ago and is more than halfway to raising the pounds 5m needed to build the first phase of the children's hospital on the UHW site in Cardiff.
This phase will include three wards and much-needed family accommodation. At UHW at present, parents often have to take it in turns to sleep on the end of their child's bed or in the chair next to it.
Chairman of the appeal Stanley Thomas said the recent financial commitment from the Assembly was welcome and would enable the appeal to reach its own pounds 5m target faster.
"The new Children's Hospital for Wales is no longer a possibility or even a probability: it has become a reality, " he said.
"The trustees currently believe that with the pounds 2.7m raised to date and with fundraising projects and events that we have in the pipeline, we shall be able to set the ball rolling by going to tender early in 2002."
There appears to be no question about the need for a children's hospital, but many parents fear that until the entire project is complete Wales will not benefit from any additional children's beds.
Concerned parent Ronald Jenkins says children cannot wait up to another 10 years before the full amount is raised for the Welsh hospital and questioned how many additional beds the first and second phase would provide.
"I fear that the public is being duped into believing they are getting hundreds more beds for Welsh children when in fact we will be worse off until the whole thing is built, " he said.
Cardiff Community Health Council also believes that sick children in Wales need a completed facility as a matter of urgency.
Following a recent inspection of existing paediatric facilities in Cardiff, chief officer Martyn Jenkins said the need for a dedicated children's hospital was so urgent that all the remaining funding should now be provided by the Assembly, even if it was paid back at a later date.
The appeal has not been set up to raise the full pounds 21m needed to build the entire hospital though children's hospital appeals in other parts of the UK have always relied heavily on public donations for the building of the infrastructure.
Bristol Children's Hospital which opened earlier this year was built with pounds 12m raised from the Grand Appeal, but the remaining pounds 18m came from NHS coffers.
The 10-bed Great Ormond Street Hospital was opened in 1852 thanks to public funding, and all current projects continue to be funded in this way.
Money for Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool was also raised through charitable donations though its funding now comes from the NHS.
Retired paediatrician Dr Roger VerrierJones said the Assembly's pounds 4.5m commitment was significant because it would not be able to leave the project unfinished.
Appeal trustee Geoff Rich said pounds 21m to complete the hospital was a drop in the ocean for the Assembly's budget and something they should be providing as a matter of course.
He said, "They are managing to find the best part of pounds 47m to build a new Assembly building. Our children are the most important things and we should be doing everything to provide them with the best possible care."
Assembly Health Minister Jane Hutt said no major project could be built overnight but pledged ongoing support for the children's hospital and said, "Two weeks ago I pledged pounds 4.5m for phase 1b of the children's hospital which will bring together the services provided at Llandough and UHW.
"This goes much further than improving existing services and will bring many specialised children's services under one roof.
I look forward to being involved in the discussions needed to carry this project ahead."
Famous names offer support
THE Noah's Ark Appeal has received support from all over Wales from TV celebrities, sportsmen and local communities.
Ryan Giggs, Charlotte Church, Jonathan Davies, Ian Woosnam and, last week Ian Botham have all offered their backing to the hospital project as well Assembly members, rotary clubs and scout groups.
Support has also come in unusual ways. A Carmarthenshire-based bakery has designed and sold cakes in the shape of animals from the Noah's Ark logo while a 59-year old grandmother contributed pounds 6,000 after becoming the 6,254th woman to complete this year's London Marathon.
If you would like to make a donation to the appeal or find out more about the children's hospital, call the appeal office on 029 2074 4823.
UNSUITABLE: Sue Turner says her 12-year-old son Thomas receives excellent care but hospital surroundings at UHW are far from child-friendly Picture: SIMON RIDGWAY