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OUH Play Team launches national Play in Hospital Week

11/10/2021
OUH Play Team

The Play Team at Oxford University Hospitals (OUH), which supports opportunities for children and young people to play while they are being cared for in hospital, has kicked off this year’s Play in Hospital Week (Monday 11 – Sunday 17 October).

Organised by the National Association of Health Play Specialists (NAHPS) and Starlight Children's Foundation, Play in Hospital Week raises awareness of the benefits of play in the treatment of poorly children across the UK.

OUH was chosen by NAHPS and Starlight to launch this year’s awareness week.

The theme for this year – 'Playing through the pandemic: a narrative of positive interventions' – celebrates how play teams across the country have been keeping play at the heart of their work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jo Pinney, Senior Health Play Specialist at OUH, said: "We are thrilled that we have been chosen as the launch hospital for Play in Hospital Week. It gives us the opportunity to show to our colleagues here at OUH, and nationally, what brilliant services we offer here – and how play is so important to young patients."

The power of play

Play is a valuable resource to the NHS and has a positive impact on the wellbeing of children and young people through serious illness and hospital treatment. Some of the benefits of play, according to Starlight, include:

  • Improving young people's experience of hospital
  • Boosting their wellbeing and reducing anxiety, fear, and stress
  • Reducing a child’s feeling of pain
  • More engagement with treatment
  • Giving the patient more sense of control and autonomy
  • Strengthening family wellbeing and relationships

There are 24 members of the OUH Play Team, including seven senior play specialists, play specialists, and play assistants. 

Together, they cover the Horton General Hospital in Banbury and, in Oxford, the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre and John Radcliffe Hospital. In the latter, they support children being cared for in the Children's Hospital, Emergency Department, critical care, and radiology.

The multi-disciplinary team provides reassurance to children during their hospital admission, using therapeutic play to prepare them for procedures. Through playful engagement, our experts support children and young people up to the age of 18 to settle in and to make sense of what is happening in their treatment or during their hospital stay.

On a typical day, play staff see approximately 100 children, preparing them for surgery, distracting them from invasive procedures, or providing them with coping techniques, among other things.

Play during a pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic and infection prevention rules closed many play rooms, meaning play has been more difficult for staff to arrange and children to engage with. 

However, with the support of Oxford Hospitals Charity, staff have been able to ensure that play has taken place as much as possible, with play sessions taking place more often at patients' bedsides.

Despite the loss of certain play, the charity has provided hundreds of single use toys, such as colouring packs, art activities, and bubble guns, that could then go home with the family. In addition, they helped provide families with food when many shops were closed.

The charity has also funded a two-year Health Play Specialist role for Radiology so young people undergoing an awake MRI scan are supported.

Senior Play Specialist Sonia Dugmore has this role. She said: "I have been recently appointed a development post supporting patients undergoing imaging procedures across the four main Radiology departments at the Children's and John Radcliffe hospital sites.

"This post was developed during the pandemic when our capacity to undertake anaesthetics was significantly reduced by the pandemic. We set up a screening programme to increase the number of young patients having an awake MRI.

"As a result, patients undergoing urodynamics, fluoroscopy, and renal scans also now have access to Health Play Specialist support during their procedure. This will significantly improve their experience in Hospital."

Sarah Vaccari, Head of Communications at Oxford Hospitals Charity, said: "The play specialists in our hospitals have such an important role – coaxing giggles from a baby in pain, distracting toddlers during difficult procedures, and calming teens afraid of what lies ahead.

"They are simply invaluable, and the Oxford Hospitals Charity team is so proud to be able to support them through our of funding for toys, tech, and play areas.

"We are also really thrilled to have provided funding for Sonia, the fabulous new play specialist for radiology – she will help a huge number of children avoid the need for general anaesthetic when having their MRI, allowing them to get home more quickly."

At the start of the pandemic when parents were unable to take their children to theatre for their operations, there was a group of Play Specialists that became the 'theatre runners'. This mini team took the place of the parent by supporting, distracting, and being an advocate for the child when the families were unable to.

Jo Pinney said: "We have faced so many challenges during the pandemic and, as soon as it was clear that we needed to adapt our services, we immediately began thinking of creative ways to be able to support patients in a different way.

"We are still in the pandemic, and I am so proud of my fantastic, hardworking colleagues in the Play Team who have done everything possible to help children play every day of the year.

"We have been incredibly lucky during the pandemic to be supported by Oxford Hospitals Charity, and we are so thankful for the difference they have made to our young patients."