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International Happiness Day: Keeping sick kids smiling can help improve patient outcomes, says leading children’s hospital

03/20/2017

This International Happiness Day, paediatric experts at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children (GOSH) are highlighting the importance of promoting happiness and play in hospitals as a tool to support positive patient outcomes.

Being in hospital can be an anxious wait for many parents. A father from Saudi Arabia, who currently has a child being treated at GOSH, explains that, for parents, it is often hard to be happy when waiting anxiously at their child’s bedside. “Hopefully, inshallah, my child will get better,” he shared.

To support the difficult journey, GOSH, who treat over 1,500 patients from the Middle East each year, aims to incorporate happiness into every aspect of the hospital treatment. According to researchers, a high-level of wellbeing including factors such as optimism and positive emotions can lead to better health and longevity. In line with this, GOSH focus on caring for the complete wellbeing of the child and family, including social and mental wellbeing.

A method utilised by the London-based hospital to support children’s wellbeing during their time at hospital is play-therapy. Reports indicate that play is essential for all aspects of a child’s growth and development and is proven to have high therapeutic value for ill children. This can help contribute to both their physical and emotional well-being and to their recovery. Sarah, a Play Specialist at GOSH, has seen first-hand that play, beyond providing a fun environment for patients, can also help prepare children for procedures, open up conversations about any fears or worries, provide respite for families and speed up recovery.

“Children on every ward are supported by a Play Specialist or Worker and have access to a playroom and the hospital school if they are well enough,” said Sarah.  “For some patients who are isolated and/or far from home, play can be a real time of normality and solace from hospital life. It is something fun and enjoyable that translates to each patient, no matter what the language or cultural differences may be. Having time for arts and crafts, games, fun and interaction can be really uplifting for a patient’s wellbeing and help children cope with their diagnosis and treatment.”

Through use of toys and play, GOSH also educate children about their illness and explain how treatments are going to help.  A father from Kuwait, whose son was recently treated at GOSH, was amazed by this extra service. “Using a small toy with plastic organs, they told my son everything about his disease. It was amazing, he felt like he was given more importance and not just treated as a patient."  Through methods like this, GOSH is able to fully include the patient and their family into the decision making process.

Another technique, which is commonly used by GOSH, is distraction therapy. Distraction therapy is a way of helping a child cope with a painful or difficult procedure. It aims to take the child’s mind off the procedure and take them to a happier place by concentrating on something else that is happening.

A mother of a GOSH patient, who is from Kuwait, said, "The play specialists worked with my daughter to overcome her fear of needles. They would never put a needle in her arm before playing with her and getting her consent. Thanks to this therapy, she now never cries when she has injections."

GOSH aims to promote happiness throughout all moments of the patient journey from beginning to end. For Laura Graham, a Ward Manager at GOSH, the happiest moment on her ward is when she sees the transformation in the children as they become more comfortable and at ease with the hospital staff. Also, Laura enjoys when patients are able to ring the ‘End of Treatment’ bell which signals that a child’s treatment is complete. “It is such a special moment for everyone. Recently, a child who was very unwell when they came to us was able to ring the bell. People come from all over the hospital to see this very happy moment,” said Laura.

Saud, from Saudi Arabia, who was treated at GOSH for an immunodeficiency disorder, was excited to recently meet a celebrity, who came to the ward to especially to meet fans. “It was great fun and was the first time I was able to meet an international sports personality,” he said.

Commenting on the importance of fostering a happy environment at GOSH, Chris Rockenbach, General Manager said, “GOSH strives to create a healing environment for the whole family and whilst our primary focus is on providing world leading expert paediatric care to our patients, we never forget this is a journey experienced by the whole family.” Mr Rockenbach continued, “At GOSH, we pride ourselves on recognising it is the small details that make the difference; from celebrating important cultural and religious events throughout the year, to ensuring patient birthdays are celebrated to help create special memories even at the darkest of times.” Finally, Mr Rockenbach added, “The inclusion of the whole family is so important to us at GOSH, as we want our patients and their families feel and see GOSH as a home away from home.”

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