Children coming into hospital have a new way to help them understand what to expect before having an operation.

A special version of the popular children’s comic, The Phoenix, has been created for young patients coming in for surgery at the Oxford Children’s Hospital and Horton General Hospital.

The Incredible Hospital Comic has been funded by Oxford Children’s Hospitals Charity and created by the charity’s artlink programme, in conjunction with The Phoenix comic.

It includes stories, written and drawn in a child-friendly way, that answer questions children often ask, and has jokes, puzzles and even a gallery of the cuddly toys youngsters take into hospital with them.

The 34 page magazine was carefully planned with input from many young patients as well a key hospital staff. 

The different stories take children through what to expect at various stages of their hospital journey and familiarises them with procedures and the staff they will meet.

Ruth Charity, the charity’s art’s co-ordinator explains: ‘The idea for the comic came about from conversation with staff about how to reassure children, especially those who had never been into hospital before.

‘We spent a long time trying to get the magazine exactly right – so it would really appeal to children, entertain them and make them laugh, whilst also answering the kind of questions we know they have and allaying their fears about having an operation.

‘The Phoenix team have been incredible to work with, and so patient - as projects like these take a long time to get right.  And just before we started printing, covid hit, so we managed to quickly add a section about staff wearing PPE, just in time for the print run.’

Since then the magazine has been shared with hundreds of children, even, unexpectedly, the child of artist Neill Cameron, who created the central comic strip of the magazine - which follows a child’s experience of coming into hospital for an operation.

Neill explains:

‘When I was approached to work on this special version of The Phoenix I spent days up at the hospital talking to doctors, nurses, play specialists, and running interviews and workshops with kids on the wards and in the hospital school.

‘It took a long time, but it really mattered to all of us to get it just right. We were all so pleased with the end result and hoped it would make a big difference.

‘Then, early this March – with the pandemic restrictions all still in place - I had to take my son into the children’s hospital for an operation - the very same hospital I’d spent so much time researching.

‘This was such a strange situation for us as we were living the exact scenes I’d drawn. We walked down the same corridor on the way to theatre, and I stood there as my child was put under anaesthetic – exactly as I had shown in the magazine.

‘And I learned first hand that the comic I had helped to create really did make a difference. My son had obviously read it cover to cover – so it reassured him – and all the research meant I knew we were in safe hands.

‘I feel really lucky now that I got to work on the comic because it gave both me and my son a real sense of security knowing what to expect at a really difficult time.

‘I was so inspired by the dedication of the staff and the bravery and resilience of the patients I’d met when I was doing my research and felt that all over again with my own child and those looking after him. It was a surreal and emotional situation really.

‘And we are all thrilled that so many other children will benefit from this very special comic.’

Zoe Pooley, Children’s Hospital matron (pictured holding the magazine) said: ‘We absolutely adore this special version of The Phoenix. Children love it and their parents also have a good read, because it is easy to understand and written in a really compelling way.

‘It is amazing to hear how this has all come full circle, with Neill and his son experiencing the hospital first hand, and we are so glad to hear Neill’s child is doing well following his operation.

‘As well as thanking The Phoenix team and our wonderful charity for creating and funding the magazine, we’d like to thank all those staff – including the nurses, play specialists, anaesthetists, and clinical psychologists -  as well as YIPpEe, the hospitals’ young persons’ forum, who advised on the storylines.’

5,000 copies of The Incredible Hospital Comic have been printed and are being given to children during consultations before their surgery.

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To find out more about how Oxford Hospitals Charity makes a difference across the wards and departments of your local hospitals, get in touch with the team via the methods below. 

Tel: 01865 743 444

Email: [email protected] 


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