Dr Rob Grinsted interview: The holiday GP

Wolverhampton GP Dr Rob Grinsted enables seriously ill children to enjoy the holiday of a lifetime.

The National Holiday Fund is a charity providing the holiday of a lifetime for children with serious disabilities and chronic and terminal illness.

Twice a year, we take a group of 12 children and 12 carers, with a doctor, a senior nurse and a group leader, to Orlando in Florida. All of the team are volunteers who have given up two weeks to devote to giving these children a holiday they could never otherwise experience.

The children travel without their parents; each child's one-to-one carer provides day and night care throughout the trip, while the doctor and nurse provide medical and nursing care for the children and the adults on the trip.

The doctor is in loco parentis for all of the children during the trip. This makes sense from the point of view of consent for medical treatment, but also means the doctor has the legal responsibility to make all necessary decisions for each child.

My fifth trip as group doctor with the charity, of which I am also a trustee, was in November last year.

I am often asked: 'Why not go for a shorter holiday?' and 'Why go all the way to Florida?'

As trustees, we have a duty to use the charity's funds effectively. One of the primary aims is to give the children's parents the opportunity to have a well-deserved respite break, and, importantly, to allow any siblings the chance to have a holiday free from the restraints necessitated by a member of the family having a disability.

Why Florida? Keeping the children occupied and stimulated is key; as every parent knows, children can become mischievous and prone to homesickness if they are bored. With all of its theme parks, few places in the world have so much to offer children for 14 days, all within a short travelling distance, as Florida.

Planning the trip

Before the trip, the adults going to Florida will meet up and there will be lots of emails and calls about drugs, travel chairs, on-board oxygen, MEDIF (Medical Information for Fitness to Travel or Special Assistance) forms and fitness-to-travel certificates.

The children are chosen based on their application and reports from their GP and/or consultant. We meet the children for the first time at the hotel at Gatwick Airport, the day before we fly to the US.

The first day at Gatwick is always busy - 12 children, with a variety of illnesses, special needs and disabilities.

Twenty minutes per child is never long enough to introduce myself, perform a fitness-to-travel assessment, do the paperwork and record the child's care needs to enable us to care for them for two weeks in the US, not to mention the flight, days out and various group activities.

Some of the theme park rides have disabled access, but many children have to be lifted in and out of rides. One of the doctor's roles is to decide which children can go on which rides; some need a little encouragement to go on the gentlest of rides, but more often, some are desperately disappointed if the doctor will not allow them to go on a ride for medical reasons.

The theme park characters are always welcoming and make a point of coming to say: 'Hi' to our children.

The plan of keeping the children on the go, occupied and entertained, from morning to evening is effective, even if it leaves us adults a bit weary.

After two weeks away, I am not sure which is more emotional - seeing the children reunited with their families, or saying goodbye to those children who have been our family for two amazing weeks in sunny Florida.

The children really do have the time of their life - those who are able to communicate, tell us so, and those who cannot communicate in words tell us as much in their own way.

Some of the children will never live an independent life, but they have at least had the experience of living independently from their parents for a short time. It is an experience they will all benefit from in different ways and remember for the rest of their lives.

So to the three questions everyone asks - 'Is it worth it?', 'Is it hard work?' and 'Will you do it again?' - I reply: 'Definitely', 'Very', and 'Probably'.

  • Dr Grinsted is a GP and training programme director in Wolverhampton. Find out more about the National Holiday Fund at www.nhfcharity.co.uk.

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