Young patients are being whisked away to swim under the sea, relax on a beach or chase after dinosaurs during their hospital visits with the help of virtual reality headsets.
As part of National Play in Hospital Week, which runs from October 7-12, play specialists at Basingstoke and North Hampshire Hospital have been trialling virtual reality headsets to distract young patients from uncomfortable procedures.
The play teams across Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust support children and young people in hospital through activities and use play as a therapeutic tool to help children understand their illness and treatment. National Play in Hospital week aims to raise awareness of the benefits of play in the treatment of unwell children in the UK.
Virtual reality distraction therapy assists with pain relief, anxiety, stress and improving the patient experience. The technology offers three different experiences, which include distraction, escape and relaxation, focusing on breathing techniques, as well as the option for staff to create their own videos that could explain MRI and CT scans for younger patients.
The system has received positive feedback from staff, patients and parents. Jo Lafford, senior play specialist at Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Basingstoke hospital, as well as Andover War Memorial Hospital and Royal Hampshire County Hospital, in Winchester, said: “When the headset was first introduced, the nurses on the ward were astonished at the change in patients’ behaviour while wearing the headset.
“The headsets can save money and time in the long run as it can help children to receive the treatment they need and most importantly saves them from a lot of distress, meaning they have a positive experience in hospital.
“We know that hospitals can be a daunting place, particularly for younger patients, so it’s been fantastic to use modern technology to help us support our patients whilst we care for them.”
One of the patients who benefitted from was 12-year-old Brandon Hayter, who is an inpatient on the childrens’ ward in Basingstoke.
While Brandon was petting digital penguins, his mum, Nicola Hayter, said: “There are not many toys for children his age that are effective at distracting Brandon during his tests and check-ups, but this headset instantly caught Brandon’s attention.
“Brandon still gets nervous when he comes into hospital, but I think this headset would make his visits easier and a bit more fun.”
After using the headset, Brandon said: “I’m normally very scared of finger prick blood tests, but I would have those tests done while wearing the VR headset. I thought it was really distracting.”
Having seen the positive effect that the headset has had, the play team are looking into ways of making one a permanent fixture on the ward.