A vision for the nation’s health cannot avoid children’s play.

With health and the NHS a major issue for this election...

...politicians should look seriously at children’s play.

Improving the nation’s health and wellbeing and getting the NHS back on its feet are key issues for the general election on 4th July. Politicians drafting their parties’ manifestos should take a serious look at the role of children’s play in each of these interconnected challenges.

Starlight works hard for children’s play in healthcare to become more widely recognised and supported. We want the power of play to be fully available to all children accessing health services. We know how the incredible power of play can lower the risk of trauma from difficult and painful procedures. Daily opportunities to play can take away the anxiety of illness, reduce the loneliness and isolation of being in hospital, and help children to take seemingly overwhelming challenges in their stride.

Apart from the moral imperative of making sure these benefits are available to all the children who need them, the resultant efficiency savings of shorter procedures and reduced needs for sedation and anaesthesia should make growing the capacity of health play services, led by qualified health play specialists, a top priority for health ministers in the new or returning government.

But we also know that play is the super-power of all children, not just those who are sick. Playing makes children more resilient, happier, and healthier – less likely to need healthcare interventions in the first place.

Scientists from many disciplines agree that playing is a biological, and psychological imperative. Given space and opportunity, playing provides children with:

  • perfect levels of self-regulated physical activity
  • emotional and social engagement, crucial to their psychological wellbeing and development
  • opportunities for the creativity and inventiveness that are vital to being good learners
  • everyday joy and vitality: the key to their resilience.

And if the extensive literature on the relationship between play and wellbeing is not persuasive enough, just ask any parent-carer how they know when their kids are alright. 

Responding to the report of The Times Health Commission on the state of health and care, the King’s Fund said recently “there is much agreement about what needs to happen. This includes creating policies that address health rather than just healthcare, shifting the focus to prevention and early intervention services…” 

It is widely understood that prevention is better than cure and this observation from the UK’s leading health policy thinktank points to a revaluation of what kind of health service we need, with more attention to the holistic health and wellbeing of children. Their fundamental need to play – within every level of the health and healthcare ecosystem – should be part of that thinking.

We are asking politicians to promise that all children will have time and space to play – in hospital and out of it – as part of their long-term plans for the nation’s health and healthcare.