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Play specialist 7 days a week in hospitals

Sophie would often become bored in hospital – stuck in a room for 24 hours a day with little interaction other than nurses giving her medication or doing observations. This was hard for Sophie as well as me as her parent. Covid obviously impacted on the ability to see other people in hospital so it would be Sophie and myself (mum) every day. During our stays in hospital we discovered how play specialists/leaders often worked Monday to Friday 9am-5pm. If the play specialist was off sick or on holiday they wouldn’t be replaced. At weekends it would be quiet and even more boring for Sophie.
The other thing that we discovered is that hospitals do not get funding to buy toys, art supplies etc. We found out that the hospital didn’t have enough of some of the items and Sophie set out painting ceramics in order to buy more toys/crafts so children had things to do. She raised £6000 during her treatment selling her painted ceramics and buying toys or activities to Southampton, Portsmouth and UCLH hospitals.
When Sophie was writing her bucket list she wrote her wish was to have play specialist/leaders in hospitals seven days a week so that children had something to keep them occupied. She knew this was never going to help her, but she always thought of others. Sophie’s words were ‘You wouldn’t run a ward without nurses, I don’t think you should run a children’s ward without play specialists. 

Following Sophie’s death, we have been exploring more about how we can try and fulfil her wish. The challenges are quite big! There are 680 play specialists registered on the public register and 1229 hospitals in the UK. There are only a few places where you can train to become a play specialist – Cardiff & Vale College, Leeds City. Nescot, North Warwickshire and Solent University. The courses are either a two-year foundation degree or an apprenticeship course.
There seems to be little awareness of the roles of play specialists within hospitals and it is something we want to change. We also would like more colleges or universities to create more courses so that people can train. We would also like hospitals to place greater importance on the role of play for children.
We are currently working with the Chief Nursing Officer and her team in the NHS to try and implement changes. I shared Sophie’s story on 17th June 2022 at the National Association of Hospital Play specialist conference in London. I also presented Sophie’s story at the Play Research Centre at the University of Cambridge on 23rd March 2023. 

Since November 2022 I have been involved with the taskforce on children’s play which is a 6-8 month project looking at ways to improve play for children in hospital. This is a national project and one which will help to start to achieve Sophie’s wish. 

In February 2023 we funded an art practitioner (Hayley) to work one day a week in Portsmouth hospital. Hayley provides therapeutic art sessions for children in hospital. We know this is something that Sophie would have absolutely loved. 

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