Following procedures

Jean McLeish

FIFTH-YEAR medical student Roslyn Smith examines the patient carefully, then breaks the news. "His arms and legs are OK, but I'm a bit worried about his tail," she says quietly.

Six-year-old Hamish takes this in bravely, and heads solemn-faced for the X-ray unit with Roslyn. Hopefully, Fluff is the first and last warthog she will treat in her medical career.

The gym at Mile End Primary in Aberdeen has been converted to a makeshift hospital and children in P2 have been invited to bring in sick teddy bears or toys. Medical students from Aberdeen Univer-sity are coping well with the range of victims' injuries - and their earnest companions.

The Teddy Bear Hospital concept was first started in Norway and is run in association with the charity Medsin, which promotes health equality globally. The aim is to familiarise young children with hospital procedures and doctors in an effort to minimise their fears, should they be patients themselves.

Laurel Renton has brought her teddy George. Her mum has already been at work on George because he has a plaster over one eye and a bandaged leg.

But Laurel would like to have a second opinion. In her short life, Laurel, 6, has already managed a few hospital visits of her own - once with a broken ankle sustained in a bunk bed episode and another time with a broken leg, following an accident with a horse.

"I was in for four days, but Mum stayed with me. I thought it was quite fun," she says. "Well, I didn't like staying in bed, but Grandma came and read me some stories and the nurse taught me how to make fortune tellers."

Today's venture has been organised by final year medical student Dominic O'Reilly. In addition to the 30-odd pupils having consultations with medical students, there's a visiting ambulance crew showing children the inside of an ambulance, and a healthy eating stall where they're sampling fruit and salad snacks.

"I've been in the children's hospital and I have seen some coming in distressed and anxious. Some-times that's due to their symptoms but sometimes it's the change in the environment that they're in. I thought we should try and work on that," Dominic explains.

Suleman Daud, consultant paediatrician, is keeping a watchful eye on proceedings. "It's something that we come across with kids - not frequently, but you will get the odd child who presents into the clinic or who needs to come into the hospital and has anxieties about entering this environment," he says.

The hospital has a team of play specialists, including theatre play, who use stories and activities to help children understand what's happening to them and what their treatment will involve.

Dr Daud points out that children from this school were advisers for several years in the planning of the new Royal Aberdeen Children's Hospital, which opened in 2004. And their ideas were used to make the facilities child-friendly from the outset. "There's a lot of work that's already gone on and I see this is another layer in the initiative. Hope-fully, it will make children feel hospital is somewhere they can go without fear and have knowledge of what they can expect."

Pam Michie, the headteacher, says many former pupils who had acted as advisers during the planning of the hospital are at nearby Aberdeen Grammar. "They suggested things for the mums and dads to do while they're waiting, because they might be worried, which I thought was perceptive, and for brothers and sisters to do.

"They said: 'There could be a big area beside my bed for me to hang things up and if there could be a bed for Mum?' And they listened."

Back at the other end of the gym, Suzanne Stewart and her doll Annabel are given a prescription for hugs and kisses every night and a certificate which tells them both that they have been very brave.

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Jean McLeish

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