More play resources for children in hospital or risk increased trauma and poor mental health

Trauma and mental health problems are a real threat to children in hospital who do not have the opportunity to play.

The report, Reducing trauma for children in healthcare, reveals the link between play and improved mental health, and the huge gaps in play resources in hospitals across the UK.

There are only 571 registered health play specialists (HPS) across the country. These highly qualified play professionals, who help children cope with painful and frightening procedures and treatment, are dealing with nearly 1.8 million admissions a year.

Due to nearly half (47%) of HPS working part-time, this equates to an average ratio of only one full-time HPS for 3,986 child admissions to hospital per year. 

The report also shows that nearly three-quarters (71%) of NHS Trusts and Health Boards across the UK do not have a designated budget for play.

This is despite a poll of 1,031 children which found that over half (54%) said they are worried or scared about visiting hospital or the doctor.

In a poll of 2,062 adults, nearly one in ten (9%) said that their childhood experiences of healthcare have negatively impacted their mental health, which could mean as many as 4.8 million adults in the UK with mental health issues.

Cathy Gilman, Chief Executive, said: “Many children in hospital have to endure trauma, fear and pain because of the treatment they undergo.

“Despite advances in modern healthcare, there remains a paradox that children can develop serious, long-term mental health problems as an unintended consequence of their care.

“Recognising the importance of and investing in play professionals and resources need to be a priority, yet our report has highlighted woeful gaps in play services across the country.

“Above all else, we must listen to what children are telling us. When we ask children about being in hospital the over-whelming response is that hospital is scary and play makes it better.”

Penelope Hart-Spencer, Chair of The National Association of Health Play Specialists said: “We understand implicitly the positive impact a playful, well supported experience has on the emotional wellbeing of children in healthcare.

“It remains a great concern to the profession that there are vast discrepancies in play services for children throughout the UK, which is attributing to trauma.

“Health play specialists prioritise children’s mental health within our health services.”

The report also shows:

  • The health play workforce across the UK comprises 1,156 people in a variety of roles, of which only 571 are registered HPS.
  • 15% of healthcare settings have policies and procedures for play.
  • Play can lead to economic benefits and efficiencies for the NHS because it can reduce the trauma associated with treatment and medical procedures.