How will health play services develop over the coming years? That is the question posed by a new taskforce report looking at services that have, until now, been considered a ‘nice to have’ instead of an integrated part of every child’s healthcare journey.

Following a collaboration with NHS England and key professional bodies, Starlight has produced a game-changing report, A Common Purpose: Report of the Taskforce on Children’s Play in Healthcare. It outlines proposed improvements to the provision of health play services for children across England.

The taskforce of nearly 60 health professionals, jointly chaired by Starlight and NHS England, met nearly 30 times from November 2022 to June 2023. 

Their goal was to explore ways to ‘elevate and expand health play services for children in England’.

The report comes partly in response to NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) guidance published in 2021, which emphasised the pivotal role of play services in mitigating children's loneliness, anxiety, and isolation during hospital stays.

Key points from the report:

Draft Guidance

The report unveils that comprehensive guidance for NHS commissioners and providers has been prepared and is being considered for publication by NHS England. This guidance will outline the essential integration of children’s play services into healthcare, ensuring that children have access to play practitioners and resources during their healthcare journey, including the vital preparation, distraction and support of play specialists during difficult and painful procedures.

Draft Standards and Audit Tool

The taskforce has also produced draft standards and an audit tool for health play services. These standards aim to guarantee consistently high-quality support through therapeutic play, as well as more positive experiences and outcomes for babies, children and young people.

Workforce Development Strategy

Recognising the need for specialised professionals, the taskforce reports that a new health play workforce group will be established to develop a workforce development strategy to keep pace with the changes.

Cathy Gilman, Chief Executive at Starlight said: "The report marks a significant stride towards prioritising the psychological and emotional well-being of children during their healthcare journeys. By championing the power of play, this report underscores the vital role of play specialists as indispensable members of healthcare teams."

Other bodies involved in the Taskforce on Children’s Play in Healthcare were the National Association of Health Play Specialists, the Healthcare Play Specialist Education Trust, the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Sophie’s Legacy, and the Care Quality Commission.

The report is dedicated to the taskforce members, healthcare professionals, and children whose well-being is safeguarded through the transformative power of play.