MEDICAL staff from across the South West will be in Barnstaple this week to learn new techniques for helping children cope with pain and worry in hospital. Three one-day workshops accredited by the Royal College of Nursing are being staged at the Park

MEDICAL staff from across the South West will be in Barnstaple this week to learn new techniques for helping children cope with pain and worry in hospital.Three one-day workshops - accredited by the Royal College of Nursing - are being staged at the Park Hotel by Dr Bernie Whitaker, an Australian specialist who is flying in from Oslo.He was invited by Bekka Hinson, a children's community nurse with Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust, when she attended one of his courses at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London."Some children can be terribly upset and worried about what's happening to them, especially if they're in a lot of pain," explained Bekka.It's wonderful to see the difference these techniques can make for them, which is why we wanted to help as many colleagues as possible learn what to do."It's the first time Dr Whitaker has run his workshops in the South West, so we're very pleased that he agreed to make North Devon the venue."The sessions focus on a technique called guided imagery, in which children are helped to imagine themselves somewhere else - such as playing in the park or going on holiday.They are led through the experience, being asked to describe what they see when they look around, who is there and what they are doing.When combined with relaxation techniques and controlled breathing, the aim is to take the child's mind off what is happening to them - perhaps while they are having blood taken or are being prepared for an operation.It can make a huge difference for those who are anxious about what is happening to them. They might be in pain, as well as being away from home and with people they haven't met before.The technique is already being used by some of the trust staff - in the Caroline Thorpe children's ward, for example - but the aim is to train others who work with children. Places are being sponsored by the Paul Lock Memorial Fund, which supports research into paediatric care in North Devon. Also supporting it are the North Devon District Hospital League of Friends plus the Combe Martin Wurzels.