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New Year’s Honour for Cambridge Children’s Hospital clinician

Dr Isobel Heyman, our clinical co-lead for mental health, has been named on the King’s New Year’s Honours list for her work helping children and young people with mental health challenges. She has used the opportunity to shine a spotlight on our vital work to design a children’s hospital that integrates mental and physical healthcare, with research.

Cambridge Children's Hospital clinicians
Dr Isobel Heyman with the Cambridge Children's Hospital team

I am delighted and thrilled to receive this honour, but genuinely humbled because I am working on a project which means more to me in many ways than anything I’ve done before,” says Isobel. “Pulling together physical health and mental health is something I’ve been passionate about for my whole career.

Dr Isobel Heyman receives her MBE in recognition of her career as a consultant psychiatrist working with children and young people. While continuing to work as an Honorary Professor at the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, she joined the Cambridge Children’s Hospital team last year.

“While mental ill-health is increasingly recognised, children with physical illness who also have wellbeing and mental health needs have often been marginalised. Their mental health problems have not been detected and treated,” explains Isobel. Children with long-term physical illness have up to 4 times the rate of mental ill health. For example, emotional and behavioural problems occur in up to 50 per cent of children with epilepsy. A common scenario is that the family may have coped very well when their child is little, but if – for instance - severe anxiety emerges when they become a teenager and their ability to function becomes disrupted, that can be worse than the epilepsy itself. Yet anxiety is a highly treatable condition with the correct interventions, and there is no suggestion that children with epilepsy respond any less well than other children to the evidence-based treatments and so they should always be offered them.”

In all children, physical and mental wellbeing interact, even if the child does not have a specific mental health problem. Isobel is keen to raise awareness of the mind-body link through simple messaging. At Cambridgeshire County Day in June 2022, for which Cambridge Children’s Hospital was the main beneficiary, Isobel ran a ‘rubber hand’ experiment. The participant puts their hand on one side of a curtain and a fake hand is placed on the other. When a feather is tickled on each at the same time, the person can feel the sensation on both, their brain believing the rubber hand to be their own. Whatever the nature of the physical problem, psychologically informed care will be incorporated for all at Cambridge Children’s – indeed Isobel hopes that we will gradually learn not to separate mind-and body when we help children and families.

Isobel Heyman
Dr Isobel Heyman at Cambridgeshire County Day with the rubber hand experiment

Cambridge Children’s Hospital represents a unique collaboration between the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust (CPFT), Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (CUH) and the University of Cambridge. This partnership is something Isobel is hugely excited about.

“At every level we can meet the needs of children and families in a better way, from thinking about quality of life and psychological wellbeing, through hospital design, food, and outdoor space, right up to accommodating young people with the most serious mental health illness in the same building.

“To our knowledge there’s no other children’s hospital in the UK where mental health and paediatric wards are in the same place with staff who can work across those different environments when needed. This integration of care is especially important for young people who have both mental health and physical health needs.”

Isobel believes the world-leading research institute is the essential ‘third arm’ of a gold standard hospital. “We know that having research completely integrated in clinical practice improves outcomes. It ensures that patients receive the best care from the most creative and motivated clinicians.”