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Pioneering children's hospital will revolutionise care for the region’s youngest patients

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A state-of-the-art children’s hospital in Cambridge will revolutionise care for the region’s youngest patients, says a divisional director for paediatrics at Addenbrooke’s.

Following the government announcement that up to £100million has been pledged for the new purpose-built facility, Dr Rob Heuschkel told the Cambridge Independent that the news was “absolutely tremendous”.

A further £50m-£80m will be raised to complete phase one of the hospital.

Some of the key movers and shakers at the site of the new Children's Hospital, from left Amanda Rowley, Mike More, Tara Llewellyn, Rob Heuschkel, Ian Walker, and Amanda Cahn. Picture: Keith Heppell. (5948090)
Some of the key movers and shakers at the site of the new Children's Hospital, from left Amanda Rowley, Mike More, Tara Llewellyn, Rob Heuschkel, Ian Walker, and Amanda Cahn. Picture: Keith Heppell. (5948090)

The vision of a dedicated children’s hospital on the Addenbrooke’s site has been discussed for about 20 years and multiple attempts have been made to bring children’s services under one roof.

“The staff are absolutely delighted because of the ongoing challenges that we’ve had with the lack of capacity,” Dr Heuschkel, a consultant paediatric gastroenterologist, added.

Built on land adjacent to Addenbrooke’s and The Rosie hospitals on Cambridge Biomedical Campus, the children’s hospital will bring together some of the world’s top scientists to explore new ways of diagnosing and treating some of the most challenging diseases of childhood.

It aims to make an important contribution globally to the development of children’s healthcare while providing world-class care for families in the East of England.

Dr Heuschkel said that currently the hospital was accommodating children “all over the place”.

“To provide true excellence of national and international quality, you’re not going to do that in paediatric facilities embedded across an adult hospital,” he said. “The impact for the region and specialist services, complex paediatric specialities, is massive because it will allow us now to fundraise and to build a facility that can accept children without sending them out of region, without transporting them into London and without holding them in peripheral hospitals waiting for us to find space.”

Addenbrooke’s has 57 beds for children and they are managing referrals from 16 hospitals. Some of these beds are on wards that were designed more than 20 years ago to accommodate adults.

Dr Heuschkel explained: “There are bays with six children with parents in pull-down beds next door to them with some children being in those beds for weeks, and months.

“There is precious little or no en-suite facility for children who are having major surgical procedures. The facilities are utterly inadequate.

“Where possible we’re managing kids as day case or ambulatory, the children who really require inpatient care are generally in for much longer these days, so it’s adding insult to injury. Not only have you got to be in hospital but you’re in facilities that are just not adequate any more. Despite that the number of complaints we get from patients and families are really incredibly low because they say that the staff are outstanding. They’re grateful for the care even though the facilities are pretty grim.”

The project is a partnership between Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust.

The new hospital, Dr Heuschkel said, will be able to provide quality care in more age-appropriate spaces, putting an end to teenagers sharing wards with infants.

It will integrate mental and physical health and accommodate the relocated Ida Darwin ward to end the “artificial separation” between the areas.

“The kids that will benefit from that are particularly teenagers with eating disorders because they need both physical and mental health support and also, kids with chronic long-standing complex medical health needs need psychological and psychiatric support often,” added Dr Heuschkel.

The children’s hospital aims to explore new ways of diagnosing and treating children, including the use of genomic sequencing, which will help to speed up the diagnostic process and reduce the number of invasive procedures a child may have to undergo.

“I think dealing with children, particularly the testing of sick children genetically, will allow us to really interfere with the standard approach which is lots and lots of appointments and testing until we finally get to the bottom of what’s going on,” said Dr Heuschkel, who explained that they had results which suggested between 25 and 30 per cent of children on the neonatal and pediatric intensive care units will have genetic abnormalities.

Other partners include the University of Cambridge – and the development is a major part of the strategy to invest in world-class facilities led by the sustainability and transformation partnership (STP) for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

The hospital will also harness digital health technology in a bid to keep children at home or in a local general facility where possible.

Dr Heuschkel, who has worked at Addenbrooke’s since 2008, continued: “This is not a hospital for Cambridge. This is an opportunity to build a future-proof hospital that will benefit all children in the region. This is not a magnet to suck out children from Great Yarmouth and Ipswich and bring them to park in the nightmare that is Addenbrooke’s, but it a hub which will leverage research, clinical expertise and the digital health technology.”

The use of technology will help to keep children at home or in a local general facility where possible and “revolutionise the care” they receive.

“It’s the last region without a children’s hospital,” said Dr Heuschkel, “and we can now go about learning from the mistakes that everyone else has made. We’re going to build the smallest possible hospital because we’re not in the business of sticking all the kids in a hospital, but to give it the capability to support a huge number of health initiatives from primary through secondary in to tertiary care.”

It is hoped that this, along with support from the medtech and pharma industry, will help to future-proof the facility for years to come.

“A lot that innovation will be plumbed into this build right from the word go,” said Dr Heuschkel.

He added: “The other thing I think people may not think about is that we are right alongside and embedded very closely with adult services and many children’s hospitals miss out on that expertise and talent that we’ll be able to call on.

“We’re tapping into a wealth of adult expertise that can be brought to bear on teenagers, young people, as well as the university opportunities, the medtech opportunities... I don’t think you can oversell the proposition of what this means in terms of national and international potential impact.

“The ducks are genuinely all lined up to make this game-changing.”

It is hoped that the first phase of the project will be complete by 2023. The first phase collects together all the existing space for paediatrics and “plonks it” on the site.

An estimated £350m will be needed to fund the complete vision.

Dr Heuschkel said: “We’ve still got five long years to go with inadequate facilities preparing for this, so there is much work to be done on pathways and being smarter about using the very limited space that we have.”

He explained that phase one, which will cost between £150m and £180m, “doesn’t future-proof us for the growing population and the never-ending increases in demand”.

A fundraising campaign seeking national and international donors will begin once a business case has been prepared.

“The ask, despite the £100m head-start, is still significant,” said Dr Heuschkel.

In quotes

Tracy Dowling, chief executive of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust, which provides mental health services for young people and adults as well as physical health services for older people and those with long-term conditions, said: “We are delighted this funding has been announced. Physical and mental health services are intrinsically linked, and this is the most incredible opportunity to bring them under one roof for the benefit of young people and their families. It is also great news for those who have worked so hard for so many years to develop outstanding services for some of the children and young people in the region who are most in need.”

Roland Sinker, chief executive of Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Today’s announcement is a tribute to our outstanding staff who care for very poorly children day in day out in facilities that currently are not reflecting the world class service we provide.

“We are united as partners behind the vision for this hospital which is to bring together mental and physical health and radically transform healthcare for children and their families in this region.”

Professor of paediatrics at the University of Cambridge, David Rowitch, said: “It is time to bridge the divide between physical and mental health and move away from silo working. With strengths across the board from genomics to complex medical care, child and adolescent psychiatry, Cambridge is perfectly positioned to lead by example.”

Other hospitals to benefit from new Government funding include Hinchingbrooke, which gets £25m, and Addenbrooke’s Hospital which receives £19m.

Caroline Walker, chief executive of North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust, added: “We are incredibly pleased with the success of our application to invest in clinical services provided at Hinchingbrooke Hospital. This funding will allow us to develop and improve a vast number of areas including theatres, ward capacity and emergency medicine. It will also help us deliver the trust’s vision for elective care and become a centre of excellence for rehabilitation.”

Daniel Zeichner, Cambridge’s Labour MP, said: “This announcement is a rare piece of good cheer in a pretty bleak political landscape at the moment. Local experts in paediatric care have long been pressing for a children’s hospital for the region and I have been very pleased in the past to meet with them and give my support.

“Paediatric services are currently dispersed across the Addenbrooke’s site, and regional provision is limited, so this will benefit people across the East, and enhance research opportunities in Cambridge. However, additional fundraising will almost certainly be needed to turn this scheme into reality, and it is announced against a backdrop of huge pressure on our local NHS. Cambridgeshire has a deficit of £42m locally this year alone and significant shortages of staff, with many operations cancelled earlier this year. It is welcomed news, but what the NHS really needed for Christmas was significant support now, not promises for tomorrow.”

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