Allowing children in hospital to play ‘could reduce mental health problems’

Investing more in play resources for children in hospital could prevent them from developing “serious, long-term mental health problems”, a charity has claimed.

Starlight said giving children the opportunity to play could reduce the risk of trauma.

The report, Reducing Trauma For Children In Healthcare, also highlights “huge gaps in play resources” in the UK and called for investment in play professionals and resources.

This is compared to 1.7 million UK hospital admissions a year.

Cathy Gilman, chief executive of Starlight, said: “Many children in hospital have to endure trauma, fear and pain because of the treatment they undergo.

“Despite advances in modern healthcare, there remains a paradox that children can develop serious, long-term mental health problems as an unintended consequence of their care.”

The NHS describes a HPS as a someone who uses “play as a therapeutic tool to help children understand their illness and treatment” working alongside other health professionals “to prepare children for treatment and engage them during difficult procedures”.

Starlight claims that half of HPS work part-time, meaning the ratio equates to one full-time HPS per 3,986 child hospital admissions each year.

Ms Gilman added: “Recognising the importance of and investing in play professionals and resources need to be a priority, yet our report has highlighted woeful gaps in play services across the country.

“Above all else, we must listen to what children are telling us.

“When we ask children about being in hospital the overwhelming response is that hospital is scary and play makes it better.”

Penelope Hart-Spencer, chairwoman of The National Association of Health Play Specialists, said: “We understand implicitly the positive impact a playful, well supported experience has on the emotional wellbeing of children in healthcare.

“It remains a great concern to the profession that there are vast discrepancies in play services for children throughout the UK, which is attributing to trauma.

“Health play specialists prioritise children’s mental health within our health services.”

An NHS spokesperson said: “The NHS in England is committed to ensuring that children have positive experiences in hospitals and other healthcare settings, so we are working with Starlight to see how health play services can be further developed to support children’s health and wellbeing when receiving care and recovering.”

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