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Moving towards true integration of mental and physical healthcare

An update from Alex White, Cambridge Children's Project Director

Alex White, project director, smiling broadly. He is wearing a blue a white stripy shirt, and has blue eyes and short grey hair

It is a great privilege to be involved with the design and building of a brand-new children’s hospital and a whole new way of caring for children and young people.

Cambridge Children’s will be the first specialist children’s hospital in the East of England and will be no ordinary hospital. Our aim is to provide combined physical and mental healthcare for children and young people alongside world class research led by the University of Cambridge. We aim to create a hospital “without walls”. That is to say, our care will extend seamlessly beyond the bounds of the building to offer safer, smarter care closer to the child, no matter where they are.

Behind the scenes, things are getting busy.

Within the project, we have a number of groups focusing on the various aspects of the project, including building design, new models of integrated care, schooling and the use of digital technology to revolutionise the way healthcare is provided.

Integrated Care

The boundaries between mental and physical health are not clear cut. Healthcare is changing to reflect this and we are leading this revolution.

The integrated care team is looking at how care is provided at the moment and how we can improve that to offer mental and physical care in one consistent setting, provided by a multiskilled specialist team of healthcare professionals. Plans are already being developed to recruit and train these new specialists.

A holistic approach is not just about clinical care, but overall wellbeing. We are exploring both food provision and green space at Cambridge Children’s. Children, young people and carers are telling us this is essential. We agree. The ambition is for fresh food to be available 24/7. We also want to ensure children and young people – patients, siblings and friends - have space to exercise, play and relax. Spaces will be age appropriate. The teenagers we’ve been talking to say this is important to them.


Six months ago, we were excited to announce the appointment of our international design team. Their brief is to design a building which enables our vision, is sustainable, looks great and meets the needs of the families we support.

As they work towards submitting the planning application later this year, the design team continue to talk to children, young people and carers, as well as staff across our three partner organisations. The design that is emerging is very exciting.


At the core of everything we do is communication - with staff; with children, young people, parents and carers; with the public and our wider stakeholders. Key to all this is that we listen.

We want everyone to have the chance to have their say. NHS staff are passionate about the work they do. They are pushing us to think hard about what will and what won’t work, what should and shouldn’t be within the design or the model of care.

Back in January, Cambridge Children’s Network was launched, an exciting membership club for children, young people, parents and carers with lived experience of hospital or mental health services. Hundreds of people from across the region signed up. This allows us immediate access to their experience, ideas and enthusiasm. For this, we are grateful. As we listen to their stories of what went well and what could be improved in the new hospital, we are able to steer ever closer towards the best possible model of care.

Network members have the chance to take part in workshops, such as the 45 Design Champions who meet with the design team, monthly. These discussions have proved invaluable. Going forward we want to ensure that we continue to truly co-produce the clinical model and design of the hospital, so over the coming months will be recruiting young people, parents and carers into project roles. They will join discussions, challenge us and hold us accountable, ultimately being part of the decision-making process.

This month sees the start of Cambridge Children’s ‘Press Pack’. This group of young people, who all have a passion for creating multi-media content, will join the communications workstream to tell the story of Cambridge Children’s Hospital. Their hospital, their stories, their words. Brilliant!

Watch this space.