Staff and patients at Leeds Children’s Hospital were delighted to welcome Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Edinburgh, Patron, when she visited Ward L52 on Wednesday 20th March.

This was the Royal Patron’s first opportunity to visit as Duchess of Edinburgh and her first in-person visit to Leeds Children’s Hospital since the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Ward L52 is the dedicated Paediatric Neurosciences Ward at Leeds Children’s Hospital that sees more than 350 patients each year. It is a specialist unit caring for children and young people requiring neurosurgical and neurological care and expertise from across the region and as far afield as London, Manchester and Newcastle. The ward is staffed by specialist paediatric nurses, doctors, and support workers with many years of experience and specialist knowledge.

Children on this ward might have brain and spine tumours, be treated for epilepsy or fluid on the brain and due to the long-term nature of their conditions, have some of the longest stays in hospital. 

Leeds Children’s Hospital is pioneering the use of Virtual Reality Distraction Therapy (VRDT) and with funding from Leeds Hospitals Charity, employs the UK’s first hospital-based Virtual Reality (VR) Play Specialist. Using VR technology, staff support patients through procedures that might include cannulations, dressing changes and even minor surgery. More than 350 appointments using VRDT have been delivered in the last 12 months and other children’s hospitals nationally and internationally are following the example set by Leeds.

Read more: Lucy Dove - VR Play Specialist: 75 Faces of the NHS

During the visit, Her Royal Highness met with hospital Play Specialists who demonstrated the innovative VRDT techniques they use. These are proving extremely successful in supporting children and their families with their treatment, often resulting in shorter stays in hospital and a more positive hospital experience. 

13-year-old patient Brayden McGibbon demonstrated the technology to The Duchess, supported by VR Play Specialist Lucy Dove. Brayden has been on Ward L52 for three weeks, recovering from a spinal abscess. Brayden’s mum Sophie said:

“VRDT has been really beneficial. It helps reduce anxiety and creates a distraction for children like Brayden who get anxious about invasive procedures like injections or needles. It was really nice to meet The Duchess who was really down to earth. She does so much for the hospital. Brayden loved talking to her!”

Ward Manager Julie Cooper led a tour of Ward L52. Julie has worked at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust for 36 years, 20 of which have been on L52. She said: 

“It was an honour to have The Duchess of Edinburgh join us and speak to some of our families. The children on this ward are some of the most unwell in the hospital, many needing a high level of support and rehabilitation due to the conditions they have. Some are here for longer stays and so we have the opportunity to build long-lasting relationships with our children and with their families, and so for them to meet Her Royal Highness was something quite special and uplifting.” 

Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Edinburgh meets two year old Astrid on the Neurosciences Ward at Leeds Childrens Hospital

Read more: Donations transform ward 52 at Leeds Children’s Hospital

On Ward L52 The Duchess met with patients including two-year-old Astrid who is recovering from a rare neurological condition called Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Astrid’s Mum Ingrid said: 

“It was lovely to be visited by The Duchess, she was very attentive to Astrid, very kind and caring. We felt really privileged to have such a long chat with her. Astrid loved her little gift and insisted on taking her new shopping bag to the shop straight away! We’ve had such a tough time over the last month but today was really special and something positive we will take away from Astrid’s hospital journey.”

Astrid is recovering well after temporarily experiencing almost full paralysis and will hopefully be going home later this week. Leeds Hospitals Charity provided gift bags for each patient.  

The Duchess also heard that since her last visit, the Government has confirmed the Trust’s plan to build a new state-of-the-art hospital will be fully funded and can proceed.

The scheme, to build a new home for Leeds Children’s Hospital, a new adults’ hospital and one of the largest single-site maternity and neonatal centres in the country at the Leeds General Infirmary by 2030, is part of the national New Hospital Programme.  

Read more: Leeds Children's Hospital Capital Appeal

Leeds Hospitals Charity, the charity for Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, provided more than £3.7m to Leeds Children’s Hospital over the past year.

From investing £2.6 million in a ground-breaking research project to reduce health inequalities for young patients, to providing specialist equipment for children with sensory disabilities to engage in therapeutic play. 

Esther Wakeman, Chief Executive at Leeds Hospitals Charity said: 

“I was delighted to meet The Duchess of Edinburgh at her visit to Leeds Children’s Hospital and share how donations and Gifts in Wills enable the charity to support the hardworking staff at the hospital to provide the best possible care to young patients and their families. It was also exciting to be able to share plans with Her Royal Highness about our Capital Appeal to help establish a new state-of-the-art Children’s Hospital in our city which will be a platform for innovation in child health and treatments across Yorkshire, and beyond.”