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French hospitals find fun way to ease children's operation stress

Doctors say transporting children to the operating room in small electric cars takes their minds off what they are going through

The cars are in fact controlled remotely by hospital staff Pic: CH Valenciennes

Children are ‘driving’ their way to hospital operations in mini electric cars rather than being taken on stretcher trolleys – feeling less stress and needing less pre-surgery sedation. 

The idea began at the Centre Hospitalier de Valenciennes in the Nord in 2017 when hospital staff bought two vehicles with their own money. 

“The aim is to remove anxiety through the principle of hypnosis,” said Dr Nabil Elbeki, head of A&E, intensive care and anaesthesiology in Valenciennes. 

Footballers at local club VAFC later paid for a third car and subsequent media attention led to other sports clubs, entrepreneurs, car manufacturers and more donating cars. 

The hospital now has at least 10 cars and has given more away to other hospitals as the idea spread across France and beyond. 

“Our most beautiful donation was when a child with leukaemia passed away, and his mother gave us his personal car.” 

The staff are trained in medical hypnosis and are undertaking a study hoping to prove the cars’ scientific benefits. 

‘When children play, they forget they are in hospital’

“Concentrating on an activity allows us to manage our anxiety. When the children play, they forget they are in the hospital and they don’t cry.” 

Read more: Medics write song for French boy, 11, waiting for heart transplant

This has reduced the need to sedate patients before surgery, meaning they wake up more quickly from anaesthetic afterwards, allowing for greater patient turnover, Dr Elbeki said. 

Parents are also less worried and less likely to enter into conflict with hospital staff. The association Dauphin & Handicap has been inspired by the idea. 

It has distributed around 400 cars, costing up to €400 each, to public and private hospitals through its Hopilote programme, mostly financed by firms in the health sector.

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