Play in Hospital

Why play?

Play is a familiar language used across the world by children as they explore, learn and understand about their world and the people in it. That language can be lost in times of illness, injury or trauma—but rarely is it needed more.

Play is recognised by the Department of Health as essential support for children coping with illness and hospital life [NSF: 2003]. It is an invaluable communication tool for all of us to use when supporting children’s specialist developmental needs. Babies, schoolchildren, young people, their families and paediatric staff can greatly benefit from a professional play service supporting them throughout a variety of healthcare experiences.

Hospital play staff

Chelsea and Westminster Hospital has a well-established Play Service which offers a range of expertise and resources for all children and families . Our team of hospital play specialists and assistants have completed professional training to use play in healthcare. They offer a variety of strategies including normalising/developmental play, emotional outlet/therapeutic play, procedural play and physiological play.

Our aims

Through play we aim to provide:

  • An essential degree of normality for children and their families in abnormal surroundings
  • Developmental play facilities in all areas of the hospital where children are cared for
  • A lowering of stress and anxiety for children, families and other staff
  • A raised understanding of the benefits of specialist play in healthcare

What we provide

Visits before admission to help children and their families become familiar with the hospital and staff

A range of developmental toys, games and play activities to help reassure babies, children and teenagers across the children’s wards and in children’s outpatient areas.

Play preparation working with parents and other staff using medical play to help children understand their hospital experiences at an appropriate level.

Teaching of distraction and relaxation techniques for families, children, teenagers and staff to help raise coping skills during treatments.

Therapeutic play sessions supporting children and teenagers as they process feelings about their hospital care and illness.

Use of our sensory play rooms offering a range of multisensory experiences.

A teaching programme for multidisciplinary teams and affiliated agencies using the practical and theoretical aspects of play within healthcare.

Referral service for children and teenagers benefiting from one-to-one support.

Play rooms and children’s wards

Monday–Friday: Play rooms on the wards are open on a supervised basis at the discretion of the play specialists (depending on the demands of the service and in line with infection control guidelines). At mealtimes the play rooms will be closed for cleaning.

Evenings and weekends: During evenings and weekends the play rooms are open at the discretion of the nursing staff. Hospital play specialists are currently not available at these times.

Children’s Outpatients

Hospital play staff are available throughout Mondays to Fridays offering a range of activities. You can also ask for individual support for a child who may be experiencing difficulties coping with examination and treatment.

We ask that you please do not leave your children, including any brothers and sisters, unattended in the waiting area without speaking with the hospital play specialist first.

Parents and carers

As a parent or carer you play an important role in helping to create a sense of normality for your child while they are in hospital.

We encourage parents and carers to stay with their children and join in with play opportunities throughout the day.

It is important that families and staff speak with their play specialist before leaving a child within the play areas. We can only offer limited supervision during parent/carer absence as we may be called away to support other children at any time

Play Service

‘Play can be a therapy, a medicine and a natural healer that promotes humour, happiness and wholeness... an absence of fun, little or no playtime and a lack of laughter are common symptoms of stress, sickness and disease.’

—Robert Holden, Stress Expert


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