This blog post was originally featured as a guest post by Cathy Gilman on www.mumsnet.com. on 11/10/2023.
As the CEO of Starlight, the UK’s leading charity for play in children’s healthcare, I’ve seen firsthand how vital play is in reducing trauma for children in hospital.
We know that childhood experiences – good and bad – can stay with us forever, and that’s especially true of our healthcare experiences. After my own childhood hospital experience, it wasn’t a huge surprise to learn that nearly one in 10 adults said their childhood experiences of healthcare have negatively impacted their mental health. This could mean that as many as 4.8 million adults in the UK have mental health issues because of their healthcare.
Starlight research shows that the absence of play in healthcare is a key contributor to long-term post-traumatic stress. Without that opportunity to play, a child’s long-term mental health and wellbeing is significantly impacted by anxiety, distress and feeling vulnerable and isolated. We support children to experience the power of play to boost their wellbeing and resilience during treatment, care and recovery from illness. Play isn’t simply ‘nice to have’ - it’s so intrinsic to who we are and our mental health that it is a human right.
Care Quality Commission (CQC) patient experience surveys consistently support Starlight’s research findings. Their surveys show that play professionals and play activities make the experience of hospital better for children and their parents. It’s a universal healer – helping children to forget fear, pain and loneliness, and easing parental anxiety. Play can also save the NHS valuable time and money by keeping children relaxed which speeds up treatments.