Duchess praises staff and volunteers at ‘really special’ hospice dedicated to caring for children

The Duchess of Cornwall has praised the work of staff and volunteers at a hospice dedicated to caring for children, saying: “I wish there were more of these hospices.”

Camilla visited Helen and Douglas House and heard how youngsters and their families were supported by the hospice during the pandemic.

Staff from the Oxford-based hospice, which the duchess supports as patron, were able to provide much-needed help remotely via video calls on issues such as medication when the nation was in lockdown.

In a short impromptu speech, the duchess told the invited families and staff: “I just wanted to thank all of you – all the staff and all the volunteers and all the parents and families, because I know how hard it is for them, but somehow this place has a way of sort of uplifting you.

“I know how well people are looked after, I know it cares and it encapsulates the whole family, it’s not just the child, it’s the parents who are looked after as well.”

Zoe and Jake Lynch, from Abingdon, Oxfordshire, told the duchess how after their 12-week-old son Toby was diagnosed with a rare neurometabolic disease, they came to the hospice for end-of-life care during the pandemic last May.

The couple spent five precious weeks with their son before he died and still receive help from the institution.

Camilla told the couple: “That’s what’s so wonderful about the Helen and Douglas, you get the aftercare, you’re not just left on your own, you’ve always got somebody to turn to – it’s a really special place.

“I wish there were more of these hospices, they are so important.”

Mrs Lynch told the duchess they were now fundraising for the hospice, saying: “It’s the one thing we can do to keep Toby’s legacy going on and in a way we’re still parenting him.”

Since 1982, Helen and Douglas House has been caring for local terminally ill children and their families from Oxfordshire and the surrounding counties, providing medical, emotional and practical support.

Kim O’Grady, from Olney, Buckinghamshire, praised the hospice, which has been supporting her and son Toby, seven, who has Dravet syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy.

Camilla welcomed the little boy, and his mother described how she, husband Tim and their son contracted Covid at the same time a few weeks into the first lockdown.

She said: “Toby got Covid in April, it caused lots and lots of seizures, it was just as we went into lockdown and it was very scary. The doctors here kept us at home and (Covid) was such an unknown at the time.”

Every Christmas, the duchess hosts children from Helen and Douglas House at Clarence House for a tree-decorating lunch, but the event was held virtually last year due to the pandemic.

At the end of the event, Camilla met nine-year-old Fatima (pictured) and her mother and father Vaida and Aqsad Ali, whose daughter was unable to take part in the festive event as she was unwell, and the duchess promised to invite her to this year’s celebrations.

Before leaving, the wheelchair-bound youngster, from Maidstone in Berkshire, who has a neurodegenerative condition, presented the duchess with a bouquet of flowers.

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