We need support to bring More Smiles to children in London

Imperial College Healthcare Charity and COSMIC’s More Smiles Appeal aims to raise £2 million to help fund the refurbishment and expansion of the children's intensive care unit at St Mary’s Hospital. Dr Simon Nadel, consultant paediatrician, head of specialty and lead clinician on our children's intensive care unit, explains how the unit has grown since it opened in 1992 and what an expanded unit will provide for children and their families in London and England. 

Over the past 25 years, the children’s intensive care unit at St Mary’s Hospital has been caring for some of the most sick children and babies from London, the South East and as far afield as Devon and Northern Ireland. I’ve watched the unit grow from having just one bed, to two, four then eight. As one of six general intensive care units for children in London, we currently care for about four hundred young patients a year and the unit is an extraordinary place to work.

As part of our unit’s unique place in children’s intensive care, we have been involved in ground-breaking research to improve the way children are transferred to a children’s intensive care unit from their local hospital, and in improving the outcomes of life-threatening infections. The paediatric bone marrow transplant team collaborated with teams in France and the United States to develop 50 per cent matched bone marrow transplants like the one Deborah receives during her children's intensive care unit stay in episode five of Hospital on BBC Two.

Our staff give their all to help save young lives every day of the year, but our work goes beyond treating illnesses and infections. We try to give all children we see the best chance of a normal life by supporting them to keep up with schoolwork, see family and friends and where possible, continue some of their favourite activities. The reality is that not all children we treat survive, and not all children we treat come out of our unit as the same child they were before they were admitted because of their illness.

Our young patients, their parents and their families and friends show great courage in the face of life-threatening illnesses and infection and we are so proud to have the chance to get to know them. Most of the children we admit do end up being back to their normal selves, and seeing them grow up, get married and have their own children, those normal life events, is just an unbelievable feeling.

There is however, another side to the story. We don’t always have a bed available for every child who is referred to our unit. It’s very upsetting to have to tell a family that we do not have a bed for them, and that their child may need to be transferred to a unit hundreds of miles away.

Unlike adult intensive care, our unit has relatively few elective surgery patients, meaning that the majority of patients we treat are brought directly into the unit from another hospital for specialist intensive care. Once they are well enough, our patients may move to one of our children’s wards or to a local hospital before returning home. We are busy because there are simply more sick children who need our care than we currently have capacity for, not because there is a lack of beds further down the line.

That’s why we want to grow our unit, and why we launched the More Smiles fundraising appeal in November 2015 with Imperial College Healthcare Charity and COSMIC. In 2015 about 160 children were turned away from our children's intensive care unit for treatment elsewhere due to a lack of beds. Hitting that £2 million target means we’ll have the full funding to refurbish and expand the unit at St Mary’s, with new equipment, more space for staff, patients and families and crucially, almost doubling the number of beds to 15. We’ll be able to do what we’re doing now, but for more children and in a much better environment and this will ultimately allow all of our children’s services to thrive. The Trust and Imperial College Healthcare Charity have already committed £8 million to the project, and the More Smiles Appeal has raised more than £1.2 million towards our £2 million goal. We’re so close to making this new, expanded children’s intensive care unit a reality, but we still need your help.

One look at the wall of thank you letters and cards we’ve received from parents and children in the unit is a daily reminder of why we do what we do, and why being able to treat more children is so important.

For more information about the More Smiles Appeal, or to make a donation, go to www.moresmiles.org.uk