Bringing play to life for young patients 

16/10/2013 00:00 
Children and young adults at University College Hospital will have a much brighter stay thanks to a dramatic redesign on the wards.
Patients and staff were joined by pop band NVS for the launch 

The clinical white walls on two wards have been transformed to include vibrant, colourful graphics and engaging images which provide a more welcoming environment.

The new-look was officially unveiled this week to coincide with National Play in Hospital Week (14 – 20 October) which raises awareness of the benefits of play and recreation for children and young people who are patients in hospital

“Play in hospitals can speed up the healing process; it makes the hospital feel familiar,” said Maddalena Branduardi, health play specialist at University College Hospital. 

She said the transformation to the wards will help with treatment. ‘Before, it was all grey and white, very clinical – an adult environment, not a child-focused one. Now it’s the most amazing playspace I’ve ever worked in. And play is the language of children, that’s how children communicate. That’s how they’ll talk to us, and they’ll start to trust us, so then we can talk them through the procedures.’

Allan Watkins, charge nurse on the paediatric ward, said: “A lot of children are having a good time not just in the playroom but in the wards. There are more play opportunities for children. We no longer have to limit their play.”

Peepshow Collective and Studio EMMI were responsible for the work which was funded by UCLH Charity.

On T11, the ward for children up to 12 years, a series of animals created by Peepshow’s Spencer Wilson guide patients from the lifts to the beds and treatment rooms. On the hunt for a mythological Orange Thing, they are shown visiting London attractions, with illustrations set against the vast city skyline that can be seen from the 11th floor windows.

An extra play area has been created by adding large welcome wall illustrations and toys to a computer workstation at the entrance to the wards.

T11 medical support worker Gail Davies said: “Some of the kids say “Wow” when they walk in. First impressions count – if they see it as a fun place right from the start that’s a good thing.”

It is fun with a function, though: in consultation with physiotherapists, one corridor has been decorated with a jungle scene designed to provide informal markers encouraging children to walk a bit further each time. A low magnetic board with interactive artwork also allows exercise through play, while illustrations on both sides of concertina screens can be used either to distract or to calm patients receiving treatment. 

New storage in the playroom means it can now stay open during evenings and weekends, vital for children arriving through the Emergency Department. And patients can give their feedback via a bespoke bird box, with a carrier pigeon encouraging comments on cards that children can stamp in reception.

In T12 South, the ward for adolescents, the recreation room has been transformed with comfortable seating and an interactive wall area for patient artwork and messages. Artwork throughout is themed on ‘the soundtrack of London’, reflecting the interests of the patients and illustrating soundwaves reverberating around the city that can be seen from every window.

On both floors, attention-grabbing imagery has improved way-finding to reception, with much clearer signage pointing out entrance buzzers.

National Play in Hospital Week was founded by the National Association of Health Play Specialists (NAHPS).

Irene O’Donnell, UCLH play services manager at and chair of NAHPS, said “What better week to show off our new-look wards. NAHPS are very proud that from small beginnings there is now national recognition of the importance of play delivered by qualified staff for all children and young people in hospital. We know that good quality play and recreation opportunities can enhance mental health and that children and young people’s emotional and psychological health is also recognised as having an impact on their physical health."

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