Play in hospital week: A Day in the Life of our Play Specialist Team

3 Oct 2022, 10:51 p.m.

In Play in Hospital Week, find out what our Play Specialists do in a typical day

Play in Hospital Week aims to raise awareness of the benefits of play in the treatment of unwell children across the UK. Running from 10 to 14 October, this year's theme is: Play for Resilience and Good Mental Health. This is particularly relevant this year, as Senior Paediatric Nurse Debbie Killman explains:

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have seen an increase in the number of children struggling with their mental health, so we have been focusing on how we can support and care for children who are physically unwell but may also be struggling mentally. With nearly half a million young people in the UK being referred into services for mental health problems every month, it's inevitable that we encounter mental health issues in children and young people, even though our service is principally concerned with their physical needs."

Our Children's Centre team will also be supporting Young Minds' #HelloYellow campaign on 10 October, which takes place on World Mental Health Day. #HelloYellow aims to show young people that how they feel matters and strives to help create a future where all young people get the mental health support they need, when they need it, no matter what.

Play In Hospital Week is organised by the National Association of Health Play Specialists (NAHPS), which aims to promote and ensure the provision of appropriate therapeutic and stimulating play facilities in healthcare, and Starlight Children’s Foundation, which brightens the lives of over half a million poorly children in the UK each year.

A Day in the Life

Health Play specialists are qualified professionals who work as members of the healthcare team. Their role is to provide preparation and distraction for children who are having procedures like day surgery. They also provide support after procedures and entertain children and young people aged up to 16 years. Play specialists use play as a therapeutic tool within hospitals, hospices and other community settings.

Our Play Team comprises both Play Specialists and Assistants who cover the following areas of the Children’s Centre and the wider hospital:

  • Oncology
  • Paediatric Assessment Unit (PAU)
  • Paediatric Day Unit, Inpatient beds
  • Eyford Day Surgery Unit
  • Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)
  • Emergency Department

Student Play Specialist Michelle Wallace explains:

"There is a structure to the week but each day is different. We cover 365 days of the year from 7:00am until 7:30pm weekdays and 8:00am-4:00pm on weekends. Play Specialists are available on phone and bleep and attend patients as requested on the ward.

"The day begins with handover, then off to prepare the patients and their family or carers who are going to theatre that day, using prep iPads, medical equipment or a photo journey.

"The Play Team set up the Playroom in a safe and interesting way providing activities to normalise the child’s environment and creating a safe place away from procedures and medical interventions. Children who cannot attend the Playroom have a visit from the Play specialist who can bring games, activities and fun things to do in their own room.

"Other members of the team go off to work in other areas such as the Emergency Department, Oncology or Outpatients where children are supported through procedures such as blood tests and other treatments or investigations.

Michelle continues:

"The role of the Play Specialist is essential in creating a fun, welcoming environment where stress, anxiety and boredom are reduced. This is especially important for our long-term and mental health patients.

"Another aspect of the role is supporting the family or carers and siblings of patients, through interaction and therapeutic play. Play Specialists receive referrals from other members of the wider multidisciplinary team (MDT) requesting support for children and young people.

"We are also involved in palliative care and support patients and their families or carers, often creating memories and keepsakes.

"Finally, we continue to support our patients with learning disabilities as they transition to adult care since we have got to know many of them and their families very well over the years that they have been coming to the Children's Centre."

In addition to all the above our Play Specialists' other duties include mentoring students, attending MDT meetings, maintaining and cleaning toys, organising visitors or entertainment and celebrations on the ward.

Becoming a Play Specialist

You will need an approved Level 3 Childcare qualification and 2 year's experience to enrol on the Foundation Degree in ‘Healthcare Play Specialism’.

Professional registration is then required every 2 years with the Healthcare Play Specialist Education trust (HPSET).

The role of the Play Specialist is essential in creating a fun, welcoming environment where stress, anxiety and boredom are reduced.