Every day I cycle from my house to work. As the unmistakable coloured rings outside the Bristol Royal Hospital for Children appear in front of me, I am filled with a mixture of emotions.
There’s excitement about another varied and energetic day ahead of me in the children’s emergency department where I work; slight nervousness about what I might face; determination to do my best; happiness about seeing the colleagues and friends with whom I work. But mostly, deep down, I feel a sense of enormous pride and privilege. Both because I am so fortunate to spend each day with the children and families of Bristol, but also because I know how lucky we are to have a hospital like this in our city.
The original ‘Hospital for Sick Children’ in Bristol on St Michael’s Hill was founded in 1866 and the ‘new’ hospital, supported by the Wallace and Gromit Grand Appeal, was opened in 2001. It is a truly remarkable place. It is always open: 24 hours a day, every day of the year, its departments and staff look after children from Bristol and the whole of the South West of England.
This busy, bustling NHS institution has around 160 beds, 1750 staff and in our Children’s A&E alone, we see over 40,000 children each year. Each day, whilst hot air balloons glow, art and music inspire, history and architecture are celebrated, coffee shops thrive, tourists visit and the city is voted most desirable place to live, again and again, the children’s hospital quietly beavers away with passion, strength and determination as it looks after Bristol’s most sick and injured children.
Its daily successes and achievements for children and families are not plastered across city billboards or TV adverts. Aside from the growl of the helicopter landing, to deliver critically ill or injured children, you might not hear or see what is going on. But the stories of courage and care are real, and lift the city’s subconscious spirit.
I have lived and worked in a number of other countries and feel so lucky to have a hospital like this in the city in which I live. With huge numbers of children across the globe still dying from preventable diseases, and access to free healthcare at the point of delivery still a significant barrier for millions of families around the world, I am constantly reminded of the incredible position we are in. We have world class children’s medical services in the middle of our city. Imagine what life would be like without it.
Maybe people don’t believe how good our hospital really is, but having worked in children’s hospitals in both Africa and North America, I think my yardstick is pretty good. I often tell parents that I would have no hesitation putting my son’s life in the hands of my colleagues at the hospital where I work, and I am humbled to mean it. The staff are some of the most gifted, committed and lovely people you could ever hope to meet.
Every day, I see amazing staff showing compassion and care for parents and their children, and for each other. Not for big bonuses or company cars or for the kudos, but because they are committed to looking after the city’s children. We learn together, work hard together, laugh together and yes, we sometimes cry together. Because we are Bristolians too. We are friends and parents and sometimes patients.
Being with children and parents when they need help and expertise, or when they are simply worried and need reassurance, is a choice, and one which staff make willingly. I am constantly in awe and admiration of the myriad specialists who, together, help to watch over our children and keep them safe. As a city and a community, they need our support.
Most people in the city will, hopefully, never need to bring their children to hospital. But we should all think about the place and the amazing work that goes on there. We should love and cherish it. Because it is the city’s hospital – it is all of ours. It is often a place of sadness and on occasion, tragedy. But, for the most part, it is a place of enormous hope and sometimes of exuberance and joy. It is full of smiles and warmth.
So, take some time to embrace Bristol Children’s Hospital, and, as a city, let’s make sure we look after it and give it the love it deserves.
Dr Dan Magnus is a consultant in Paediatric Emergency Medicine at Bristol Royal Hospital for Children.