16 August 2021

Overcoming fear in the emergency department through play

Arriving at hospital can be a scary time for children. They feel poorly, and will understandably pick up on anxiety and concern from their parents.

Kelly Williams and Julie Grey are play specialists in the children’s emergency and trauma department at University Hospital Southampton who work with young patients to normalise the experience. Kelly explains:

“Play is the familiar in the unfamiliar, so the idea of play is introduced to our young patients right from the start of their experience in the emergency department. We currently have interactive electronic devices at the entrance for children to draw and colour, as well as toys to help put them at ease whilst they are waiting to be seen.

The children are looked at by our team in the acute assessment unit, and parents are told the next steps related to the child’s condition or illness.

This is where I spend most of my time, especially helping staff to take blood tests and inserting a cannula for medications. The role of the play specialist is not just to help the child understand what is going on through the use of play, but also provide some relief for parents so they can ask additional questions.

We see a lot of play focussed around the x-ray room, dealing with fractures and broken bones. In the eyes of a child, they see the big x-ray machine and are worried. They can already be in a lot of pain, so I have to work closely with them to explain that the machine only takes pictures.

We are lucky to have our new department. There is colourful artwork everywhere with different themes tied into Hampshire. While x-rays are taking place, we frequently play a game of i-spy as the walls are filled with animals from the New Forest!

The coronavirus pandemic has completely transformed the way in which we deliver care. Play offers some joy in an environment where children are surrounded by strangers in masks, gowns and gloves.

At the moment activity books and colouring pencils are given out one per child, however we are now running short on these items as well as other rewards such as stickers. With your help, we can continue to supply these vital resources.

Support play in our emergency department

Choose the right medical service

Over the last few months, our hospitals, and increasingly, our emergency departments are coming under pressure and seeing increased patient attendance.

Remember to Choose Well if you or a loved one is unwell. If you are unsure about which NHS service to access, call NHS 111 and they can advise you.

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