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Chris Carter-Chapman: Why plan for new Cambridge Children’s Hospital means so much to me

Opinion | Chris Carter-Chapman, the Conservative Parliamentary candidate for South Cambridgeshire, shares his family’s story.

Hospitals, unless you are visiting a maternity ward upon the birth of a child, are not places that evoke positive memories for most of us. For me, our local hospital of Addenbrooke’s summons up particularly difficult emotions.

Chris Carter Chapman, the Conservative Parliamentary candidate for South Cambridgeshire
Chris Carter Chapman, the Conservative Parliamentary candidate for South Cambridgeshire

I have spent what now feels like countless hours there, first with my mother who passed away from early-onset Alzheimer’s at the age of just 59, and then subsequently with my nephew; Daniel. I shall never forget the call from my sister.

“There is something wrong with Daniel, he won’t stop crying and he keeps holding his stomach“. I reassured her that I was sure it was nothing serious and not to worry. Upon taking Daniel, who was just one, to hospital, it was clear from the looks on the faces of those who assessed him that something wasn’t right. We all collectively felt a sense of dread, the ‘it could be any number of things’ response from medical staff not really being delivered with much conviction. The tests came back and we discovered that Daniel had kidney cancer.

Dealing with my mother’s illness, whilst not as late in life as many people associate with dementia, could at least be placed into some sort of rational perspective. To hear that Daniel, just a baby, had been diagnosed with cancer took an immediate and very heavy toll on a family already reeling from my mum‘s death.

Daniel‘s cancer treatment started very quickly following his diagnosis. He would need significant chemotherapy before being taken to Great Ormond Street Hospital in London to remove tumours on both of his kidneys.

The emotional impact this had on my sister, Rebecca, is impossible to truly communicate. Suffice to say that she was immensely brave and resilient through what would be months of treatment and countless hours in hospital. We would take turns in supporting her as best we could, sitting with Daniel on the children’s cancer ward at Addenbrooke's in order to give her periods of respite and a moment to simply breath.

Our time on the cancer ward was a truly harrowing experience. Not being able to communicate to Daniel what was happening, why he was in so much pain (the line in his stomach through which his chemotherapy was delivered was getting infected on a near weekly basis) and seeing all of the other children in similar states, is something that I will remember forever.

Chris Carter Chapman, the Conservative Parliamentary candidate for South Cambridgeshire, with his nephew Daniel
Chris Carter Chapman, the Conservative Parliamentary candidate for South Cambridgeshire, with his nephew Daniel

The care he received from the NHS was truly excellent. The doctors and nurses did everything within their power to minimise his suffering and those around him. However it became clear in conversations with staff and the other parents on the ward that the facilities were not adequate for the needs of the children. Having to share a ward with multiple children and their parents, all tired and desperate for a moment of calm, definitely made things more difficult than they needed to be. It is this personal experience, alongside all of the conversations I have had with patients and family members across Cambridgeshire, that has underlined what I believe to be the vital need to see the Cambridge Children’s Hospital built.

Following my selection as the Conservative parliamentary candidate for South Cambridgeshire, one of my early meetings was with Dame Mary Archer. Dame Mary, co-chair of the campaign board for Cambridge Children’s Hospital, extolled, with a level of expert clarity, the case for the hospital and the transformational role it can play as part of the world-class healthcare centre that is Addenbrooke’s.

It will undertake cutting edge research into the prevention and early diagnosis of a whole host of diseases, including cancer. In addition to the improvements in patient outcomes that the hospital will enable, its purpose built design will make it an environment in which both mental and physical health are prioritised.

It will also be constructed with compassion for those receiving treatment at the very heart of its architectural design. Something as simple as having a dedicated room, with the facility for a family member to be able to sleep in their own bed next to their child or loved one, will make a world of difference. I know it would have done so for us.

Having visited the site and seen the initial groundworks under way, I am filled with optimism that this project can become a reality. There is still more to do however, the fundraising campaign in support of the project has a target of £100m and is now over half way to reaching this.

You can lend your support by visiting www.cambridgechildrens.org.uk/fundraising where you will find a range of ways to help this project succeed. There are many areas of public policy where, as politicians, we have differing views on whether certain infrastructure projects should proceed and what shape they should take.

I believe, and hope, that this is a project that all local policy makers can unite in supporting. I have campaigned for it since my selection and will hopefully have the enormous privilege to see it open its doors to children like Daniel as the local member of parliament.

Daniel, who is now three, is a Spiderman fanatic. He very happily attends a nursery in Great Shelford where he attempts to convert anyone who will listen into becoming a fellow Spiderman fanatic. I’ve learnt to just say yes Daniel, I love Spiderman, now please can we watch something else.

The truth is we would happily watch Spiderman back-to-back everyday if it makes him happy, to have him here at all feels like a miracle. Following his treatment and operation, he is highly likely to live a normal life. We were lucky and I want as many children as possible to be just as lucky.

Those behind the campaign to build a state-of-the- art children’s hospital right here in Cambridge have achieved so much. The vision is so close to being realised, and on behalf of all the families who will face what we have, please help them to make it a reality.

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