Charity WellChild plays a crucial role in highlighting the needs of children with long-term illnesses, writes Kedge Martin

On 22 October, more than 50 children will attend the WellChild and Best Magazine Children's Health Awards. This annual ceremony rewards health professionals who have made a real difference to the lives of sick children and recognises brave children.

Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, WellChild is the UKcharity dedicated to the needs of sick children and their families. Through care, support and research, the charity provides children and families with practical solutions to real-life problems, working so every child has the best possible health.

Since 1977, WellChild has been developing pioneering treatments and cures in research units at hospitals across theUK.Hundreds of children are alive today because of WellChild's research and thousands more benefit from improved treatments and care across many childhood conditions, from cancer to meningitis, liver disease to premature birth.

WellChild Children's nurses provide specialist medical care and direct support in the home to chronically sick children and their families. They also offer practical and emotional support, occasional respite and act as the family's advocate.

Our nurse-led helpline provides confidential advice and support to families and children who need information about a disease or health condition. This support helps reduce the isolation and fear many children and families suffer as a result of illness.

Practical help is vitally important when caring for a sick child. Our volunteers provide one-off or more regular support to families in need. This may include making a garden safe and accessible to a newly disabled child or refurbishing a bedroom to make it more comfortable.

Strides in care

As the charity celebrates its 30th birthday, it celebrates much that has been achieved for children's health. Thirty years ago, children with critical illnesses such as premature birth and liver disease were unlikely to survive. Today the picture is very different, with eight or nine out of 10 surviving. Despite this, there are more children in theUKthan ever suffering from a long-term illness or disability, yet children's health remains an undervalued and under-resourced area.

Initial findings from WellChild specialist children's nurses show huge unmet needs for chronically or long-term sick children. For example, in some areas it appears that the authorities have no concrete plans in place to cope with a child wanting to leave hospital to get treatment and care at home, even when it is medically possible - it is hard to imagine how much worse that would make an already unbearable situation for the parents of a child with severe disabilities.

All of this does not necessarily make for a straightforward communications message. The charity's job of improving services by raising funds, awareness and campaigning for change is also made harder, as so often the media shy away from anything without an easy happy ending.

With Prince Harry as patron and through uplifting events such as the WellChild and Best Magazine Children’s Health Awards, and now a new helpline with a free phone number, the charity has an opportunity to raise the profile of children's health in the media, although seeding these messages will still need careful thought. Like his mother, Prince Harry has not chosen a straightforward cause to champion, but it certainly is a worthwhile one.