More than half of hospitals lacking access to toys and play specialist staff, charity says

Sick children face a postcode lottery in accessing toys and a play specialist during hospital stays, a charity has said.

Starlight, which was set up to ensure play opportunities for seriously ill children, said over half of hospitals do not have access to play specialists even though the Government said 20 years ago that every child should be able to access one.

Research suggests that play eases children’s anxiety and stress during hospital stays, while the distraction can reduce their pain.

In a new report, Starlight said there are huge inequalities in the provision of play in NHS hospitals, while opportunities for play can be very limited.

It found that out of the 510 hospitals, hospices and other health organisations it works with across the UK, over half (53%) had no budget for play resources.

Of the 135 organisations that did have funds for play, the majority had a budget that was less than £500 for the whole year, while those with the most budget (£5,000 and above) were mainly large and specialised children’s hospitals.

Some NHS play specialists also told Starlight that they have, at times, paid for toys and other resources themselves.

Cathy Gilman (pictured), chief executive of Starlight, said: “Sadly for children in hospital, access to play and play professionals is a permanent problem which has undoubtedly been exacerbated by Covid and that needs an ongoing concerted effort to resolve.

“Our report looks at the integral role that play has in the wellbeing of children.

“We know that children need access to play as a crucial part of their development and to help them cope with life’s challenges.

“This is never more important than when they face the anxiety and uncertainty of serious illness, long-term conditions and hospital stays.

“Yet our recent research shows that more than half of hospitals have no budget for play and a third of hospitals do not have dedicated play professionals.

“Families have told us, when their children are treated in different hospitals, that the difference in play provision is clearly obvious.

“The same child can have a very different hospital experience. We need to see distraction and play available in all hospital and healthcare settings”.

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