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‘What it has delivered has been extraordinary’: Paediatric surgeon reflects on growth of The Archie Foundation

Paediatric surgeon Chris Driver
Paediatric surgeon Chris Driver

For 20 years, paediatric surgeon Chris Driver has worked to “repair” children and watched as they’ve grown up and gone on to have their own families.

It is the reason he picked paediatrics as his speciality – the fact that on most occasions, “children just get better” and just get on with things.

But over the last two decades, Mr Driver has worked with The Archie Foundation to ensure that those youngsters who do have to stay in hospital for longer get all the support they need.

The foundation is the official charity of the Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital (RACH), and has now expanded to the Highlands and Tayside too.

Mr Driver has proudly watched it grow into one of Scotland’s biggest charities, but is now preparing to step down as a trustee at the end of the month.

The Aberdeen University graduate moved back to the north-east to take up a post at the sick kids’ hospital in November 2000, just as a campaign to build a new one was gathering momentum.

He said: “I did my initial training here and then went to do my paediatrics in Manchster, Liverpool and Melbourne – I saw in the millenium there.

“I came back to Aberdeen in 2000 and although I’m based at RACH I do surgeries in Inverness, Dundee and Shetland – I cover the north of Scotland really.

“The biggest change in that time has been the new RACH. When I came as a student, I was in the old hospital. Everyone loved it but it was past its sell-by-date. The new hospital is a massive improvement and it has meant we can do what we do. That’s really where Archie started.

“The new hospital was being built and this was a group of people raising money to provide the extras that the NHS doesn’t fund. I got involved right away, but it wasn’t as official then as it is now – it was a group raising money for the hospital.

“The charity has just grown and grown since then.”

The new £24.6million RACH was officially opened by the Queen in October 2004, with Archie raising £5m towards the project – smashing their target by £2m.

Since then the charity has helped create the Highland Children’s Unit at Raigmore and a facilities at Tayside’s Children’s Hospital.

It has also welcomed The Friends of the Neonatal Unit and the Grampian Child Bereavement Network into the fold to ensure families have easy access to efficient and coordinated support.

“It’s been astonishing to see it grow,” Mr Driver said. “Archie must be one of the biggest charities in the north of Scotland, if not Scotland. What it’s delivered has been extraordinary.

“Everyone thinks Archie is about the buildings, but it’s much more about the people.”

Two of those people-driven services are offered by the pain specialist nurse and the play leaders.

The play leader role has been particularly important during the pandemic, as youngsters have not been able to get into the play room. Instead, the team has stepped up its bedside service, offering therapeutic play which not only gives them a distraction from the ward but also the chance to chat about anything that is bothering them.

Mr Driver said: “It’s not just for the kids, it’s helpful for parents. Trying to interact with children in a clinical environment is very difficult, but there’s lots of things the play leaders can do.

“We look after children up to 16, and it can be difficult for people of that age to feel like they have anyone to talk to. The play specialists are really good at engaging with them, perhaps doing a bit of art work together. It’s not about the art, it’s about the chat. They are effectively acting as a support network for the child.

“There is a team of three or four and Archie funds one of them fully and the equipment. We’ve got music therapy, art therapy and even a magician who does a little show in the play area or waiting area for out-patients. That’s the thing that makes the difference from the hospital being a scary place.”

Another important element of Archie’s work that Mr Driver is keen to highlight is the emergency grant scheme for families.

“It’s very difficult, we treat children from across the north of Scotland who are often miles away from home,” the 54-year-old said. “If the child is unwell for six weeks it can have a massive impact on their parents. They might have to give up their job or be facing other financial worries such as getting in and out of the hospital.

“Sometimes a child is rushed into hospital by ambulance, and their parents might not have the bus fare to get home again. These grants can make a huge difference – it just takes some of the stress away. They don’t need to be worrying about how they’re getting home when their child is in hospital. I’m very proud of this scheme.”

Like all charities, The Archie Foundation’s fundraising efforts have been badly hit by coronavirus – with the annual events such as Ride the North, Run Balmoral, the BGHE 10K and the Great Scottish Run all axed.

However, the team has continued to come up with creative ways to raise money, such as the upcoming virtual tea party and a successful golf challenge throughout the summer.

“The difficulty we face is that the need for Archie hasn’t gone away,” Mr Driver said. “Children and their families are still in hospital and still need our support, and in this difficult climate we really need as much help from the public as we can to keep Archie going and to continue providing the services we offer.

“The Archie board has had to make some very difficult decisions over the last few months to keep the charity sustainable and that’s going to be a problem for the foreseeable future – we need to generate enough income to fund the pain and play specialists and continue to be there for families that need the hope we can give them.

“Archie still needs the public to support it. It’s your child, your niece, your nephew, your grandchild that benefits from Archie. We all know a child that’s been in hospital.”

Although Mr Driver knew he wanted to become a surgeon throughout medical school, it was not until he did a placement with paediatrics it was his for him.

“I love the fact that with peads, children just get better. They don’t realise that they’re supposed to be ill,” he said.

“You go can in every day and they will make you laugh – it’s uplifting to see how they do that.

“I like the fact that we’re mostly reconstructing things, rather than thinking things away – we’re restoring normality.

“That’s the pleasure that I get out of doing an operation. I get to watch patients growing up from babies to children, teenagers and adults. I’ve now seen one of my patient’s first children.

“It’s really nice when you see someone who had lots of problems go on to have a healthy family themselves, and know you played a part in that.”

Despite stepping down from the Archie board at the end of the month, Mr Driver fully intends to continue backing their work supporting the young people he cares so deeply about.

Having been the chairman of the charity’s clinical advisory committee as part of his trustee role, he admitted it will feel odd not to be so heavily involved.

“Archie is in my blood,” he said. “It has been a consistent presence all the time I’ve been a consultant.

“I hope I can still provide them with advice and ideas. Archie has come a long way since it started out to provide the extras to make the children’s hospital a really nice place to now providing extras and additional support throughout the north of Scotland and I’m really proud to have been involved in that.”

The support ARCHIE offers

The Archie Foundation provides a range of support for its young patients across the north of Scotland.

Donations are used to provide “extras” not covered by NHS funding, such as specialist pieces of equipment and staffing.

For Mr Driver, one of the most crucial roles is the paediatric pain clinical nurse specialist.

She works to help young patients dealing with acute pain at the Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital (RACH), carrying out regular rounds on the ward, as well as the patient assessment unit and those in the high dependency unit.

The nurse also provides support at a fortnightly chronic pain clinic and assists palliative patients and trains staff to widen the provision of the service at RACH.

Archie’s play leader also helps ease the pain of young patients during procedures.

The post not only involves play, but providing reassurance, company and support for babies, young children and teens with varying needs.

The charity also has a family support worker who manages the family centre, which has 19 rooms available to parents of children receiving treatment at RACH. The centre is free to families and relies on donations to remain open – with one night costing the charity £20 per family.

Since the Grampian Child Bereavement Network joined forces with the Archie Foundation last year, the charity has helped fund its coordinator role.

The network is overseen by a board of 10 trustees and supported by 11 volunteers who help children who have lost a loved one. The coordinator pulls together this support, which includes counselling referrals and guiding families to local and national services.

The Archie Foundation also funds equipment within the hospital as well as for children to use at home or school, which has in the past included specialist trikes and bikes, weighted vests and blankets, seizure monitors, cough assist machines and sensory rooms.

To sign up to one of the charity’s fundraising activities, or to donate, visit www.archie.org

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