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Why play is good for your health

Posted on Monday 15th October 2018
Play specialists at an exhibition to celebrate play in hospital week and a young girl with a painting of a play specialist

Play specialists Jane Sivyer and Clare Perrett at the exhition and play specialist Safiya Ahmad with patient Alexandra

The play team at Evelina London make a huge difference to our patients and their families. They provide therapeutic play to help prepare, support and distract young people undergoing medical treatments. Playing in hospital keeps our patients feeling positive.

The therapeutic and specialised play service at Evelina London is delivered by a team of play specialists and play workers. The team marked National Play in Hospital Week 2018 with a variety of fun activities for patients, including slime and teddy bear making workshops. They also held a special exhibition about their work, explaining the benefits of medical role play, giving information on preparation and distraction from treatments, and demonstrating sensory play.

The exhibition showcased the wide range of ways the play team provide support and highlighted how important this is in the treatment of sick children and young people. Clare Perrett, a senior play specialist on Savannah ward explains: “My stand was about the importance of play preparation for surgery. We use dolls and books to help us explain this to our patients.”

Clare’s stand included a copy of Eddie Echo, a book she co-authored with child psychologist, Melinda Edwards. The book is designed for young children having treatment for heart problems and explains different procedures from the perspective of a teddy bear.

Six-year-old, Alexandra Taljard, whose family splits their time between south west London and South Africa, has benefited from working with the play team. Alexandra helped to create a special painting of her play specialist, Safiya Ahmad, for the exhibition.

Her mother, Lisa, says the play team have been particularly helpful as Alexandra has been receiving treatment for a reoccurring kidney disease and has been unable to go to her normal school for over a year.

Lisa explains: “Alexandra has been having specialist dialysis to help combat a kidney disease which is affecting a kidney she received from her grandmother in January. Safiya has been wonderful to Alex and has really brightened up the long days at the hospital. Having entertainment and a happy environment makes life so much easier for the kids, and the play therapists are so good at lifting their spirits. We can’t thank them enough."

Working with a play specialist can support children in a number of ways. It can help a young person to understand their illness and treatment, give them a chance to express their feelings and help them to cope with their treatment. Play can also build trust with hospital staff, and in some cases, working with a play specialist can even speed up recovery.

Jane Sivyer is a senior play specialist based in our intensive care unit (PICU). She is an expert on sensory play, which can help children to relax but is also a tool for communication. Sensory play might include sound boxes for newborn babies that play the sound of a human heartbeat to remind them of their mother’s womb or sensory blankets that can distract young patients with colours and textures. Her stand displayed pictures, stickers and sound boxes that children can use if they cannot speak, for example if a child needs to use a ventilator. She explains: “These give back a little bit of control. It is really important that children have some control so they feel empowered.”

Jane has also developed an app called The Paediatric Communication App to enable children who have difficulty speaking to communicate with hospital staff and their families about their treatment. The app is free to download from the App Store.

Play in Hospital Week 2018 was celebrated across the UK 8–14 October.

Learn more about our therapeutic and specialised play service.

©  Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust.
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