Play time Play is an important part of life at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) as it helps children and young people deal with their fears and worries. We talked to Mair Ansell (Play Specialist) and Suzanne Lyons (Play Worker) who work on Koala Ward, to learn more about what they do. An important role It’s all about creating a positive experience as Mair explains: “We see lots of children from different specialties. Some have been here several times before, while others might be coming through the door for the first time. Children know they’re coming into hospital. They may have heard big words like ‘test’ or ‘operation’, and they’re worried about what’s going to happen. It’s very important that what they see and what they feel is positive, so we try and normalise the environment for them as much as possible.” A lot of fun Suzanne’s role as Play Worker is to encourage play and keep the children occupied. Suzanne says: “We do lots of creative craft things with PlayDoh and painting, and we also have jigsaws, board games and games consoles for the older children. It’s nice that they come here and realise they can still play.” Play doesn’t just happen in the play room though, and Suzanne and Mair often take play to the bedside – even some of the messier activities. “It’s important that play is inclusive for all the children we see here,” Mair explains. “We see many children every week with disabilities, so any sort of sensory equipment, fibre-optics, bubble tubes and more tactile toys are really useful. We’re also looking to have our own sensory room on Koala Ward.” Preparation and distraction As well as encouraging general play on the wards, the Play Specialists also use play to prepare or distract children if they need a procedure. “You have to find out as much as you can about the child beforehand so that’s why the assessment is so important,” Mair says. “We can then see how
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the child is feeling and what sort of preparation and distraction techniques can help lessen their anxieties and help them form coping strategies. So if it’s a younger child, we might use puppets or bubbles, and if it’s an older child we’d be using the iPad or storytelling. We also use play preparation books for MRI scans and teddy bears with cannulas and Hickman® lines for children that are going to theatre.” Support for the whole family It’s not only patients that are anxious about coming to hospital – sometimes families need support too.
What makes a Play Worker and Play Specialist different? There are a number of differences between Play Workers and Play Specialists, some of which include:
Mair explains: “Quite often, reassuring parents is a big thing and we act as a sounding board for their fears. Every family is different so it’s our job to find out what they need and how we can support them.” Team work Play Workers and Play Specialists usually work in pairs on the wards. Mair explains: “We work really well together. Suzanne does a lot of the general play, relieving their anxiety and making them feel more relaxed, while a lot more of my work will be distraction based to help patients cope with procedures and treatments.” Working as a multi-disciplinary team is also very important. Mair says: “The doctors and nurses know the benefit of having a Play Worker or Play Specialist on board and our opinions are valuable. They know we can help with distraction when they need to carry out a procedure. Even if it’s just an examination, some of the children are going to be really scared, so if we can use our play techniques to distract and relax the patient, those children are going to be more willing to participate with the medical team later on.”
Play Workers hold Level 3 Child Care qualifications, while Play Specialists hold a specific Hospital Play Specialist qualification as well as a Level 3 Child Care qualification.
Play Workers support parents by offering advice on activities and equipment which help their child’s development.
Play Workers offer generalised play in a safe, age appropriate manner, which is sensitive to the child’s specific needs, as well as offering normalisation and distraction in between treatments and procedures.
Play Specialists offer distraction, relaxation and desensitisation techniques for children undergoing medical procedures. These techniques are underpinned by general play so the patients relate and engage with the techniques, which is why the two roles appear so similar.
Play Specialists support parents with coping strategies for children undergoing physical, behavioural or personality changes.