Consultant’s idea leads to new Beano comic strip being created to help children prepare for surgery

Date: 13 February 2023

Dr Sam Black with the special Beano comic

A new online Beano comic strip has been created to help children who need to have an operation understand what it’s like to have a general anaesthetic and help reduce their anxiety about surgery.  

Doctor Samantha Black, who works as a Consultant Paediatric and Perioperative Anaesthetist, and Paediatric Anaesthetic Lead for Medway NHS Foundation Trust, came up with the idea of working with the popular comic while looking at how resources offered to hospitals could be refreshed as one of her first projects as Patient Information Lead for the Royal College of Anaesthetists (RCoA).

‘Dennis has an anaesthetic’ takes children aged seven to 11 on a fun-filled journey with Dennis as he prepares to have his tonsils removed, from diagnosis to discharge from hospital. Although Dennis approaches his operation with his usual sense of bravado, he also has lots of questions and feels a bit nervous.

Dr  Black said: “As a paediatric anaesthetist I know from first-hand experience how anxious children can be about having an anaesthetic and how that can impact on how they prepare for, and recover from, their operation. After coming up with the idea to work with Beano to refresh the materials that were already available, my colleagues at the RCoA and I formed an expert working group to story board and develop the script which Beano then illustrated and came up with the jokes for. ‘Dennis has an anaesthetic’ is a fantastic resource that can be used in preoperative assessment clinics and at home with parents to answer children’s questions and to reassure them.

Nearly 2,000 children at Medway Maritime Hospital have a general anaesthetic each year for planned surgery. As well as enabling children to feel safe and reassured, alleviating anxiety can also have clinical benefits, including helping to reduce any side effects of the anaesthetic and improving recovery times. 

The special Beano comic strip, developed in partnership with the Royal College of Anaesthetists and the Association of Paediatric Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland, is designed to help children and their parents/carers understand what happens in the run-up to an operation, the care children will need afterwards and how they can best prepare and make informed decisions throughout, adding in an element of shared decision making. This approach to treatment is known as perioperative care, and as Dennis and the Menace family finds out, there are practical things that parents can do to help their children prepare for an operation, such as eating a balanced diet and getting plenty of sleep and exercise.

Dr Black added: “Eighty per cent of children experience anxiety related to a hospital episode. It is really important for children to be involved in the decision-making process and to have the opportunity to use the time in the run-up to their operation to make positive changes such as eating and sleeping well and doing some exercise.

“All children who are due to have a general anaesthetic will benefit from reading ‘Dennis has an anaesthetic’ even if they are not outwardly demonstrating anxiety.” 

As well as being a fun and playful way to help children understand more about their operation and how to prepare for it, ‘Dennis has an anaesthetic’ includes familiar characters, games and links to other resources.

Patients, parents and carers can download ‘Dennis has an anaesthetic’ for free by scanning the QR codes located in the Magpie Centre at Medway Maritime Hospital. It is also available to download from the websites of the Royal College of Anaesthetists and the Association of Paediatric Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland

  • Summary:

    A new online Beano comic strip has been created to help children who need to have an operation understand what it’s like to have a general anaesthetic and help reduce their anxiety about surgery. And it's all thanks to Doctor Samantha Black, who works as a Consultant Paediatric and Perioperative Anaesthetist and Paediatric Anaesthetic Lead for the Trust, for coming up with the idea.