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Child sat on his mum's knee in a green dressing gown smiling and holding a teddy, looking at a play specialist with a teddy

A play specialist at Airedale Hospital is offering sessions for children, teenagers and their families, to take the fear out of having blood tests.

They are open to children and teenagers under 18 and their families and there’ll be the chance to find out what will happen when they have their test and try out all the distraction techniques on offer, including the new virtual reality headsets.

Play specialist Maria Barrick has opened the sessions in the play and games room on Ward 17 (location C20) at the hospital and they’ll continue on Sunday 26 November, Wednesday 6 December and Wednesday 13 December from 3pm-5pm.  People can drop in anytime and there’s no need to book.

Play specialists like Maria are there to help children and young people understand their illnesses and any treatments and help them cope with being in hospital or having procedures like blood tests done, which can be daunting and cause anxiety, particularly if they are needed regularly.

The sessions also help children and the nurses plan ahead, so they can choose how they want to be distracted. There are lots of options including bubbles, fidget toys and books for very young children to virtual reality headsets, ipads, computer games and consoles for older children and teenagers.  Maria can also show children photos of the rooms where they’ll be going so they know what to expect.

Maria Barrick, Play Specialist at Airedale NHS Foundation Trust, says:

“We hope these sessions will help to prepare them, because a lot of children find having their blood taken really difficult. By helping them understand the process better so they understand what’s happening and when and in what order, we can take some of the fear away.”

Maria continues:

“It can be difficult too for children with long term conditions like Diabetes who have their blood taken a lot, who may initially be ok with having it done but become more aware and averse to it as they get older.  The sessions are useful too for children who might only need their blood taking once a year, so they’ve forgotten what to expect.”

Mum Caitlen Watson agrees the sessions help all her family, with her 2 year old Tommy having fun playing with the teddy:

“These sessions will be great too for my 5 year old who’s is autistic, because he doesn’t understand so when you come somewhere like this it’s overwhelming.  If he had a bit of a preview before of what’s going to happen he could visualise it and it helps him to know what’s going to happen rather than putting him in the seat and then it’s just suddenly ‘ouch’.

He’s anaemic so they test his blood at least 3 times a year so these sessions would really help.  My oldest son has needed a test too and it was thanks to the play specialist here that he was ok with them, because you feel so guilty as a mum, you know it’s the right thing but it’s the hardest thing too.  So this is amazing!”

Maria is encouraging young people and teenagers to come along too and not to be put off by her title of ‘play’ specialist.

Maria says:

“We’re there for all ages, right up to 18, not just young children.  We offer lots of great activities too for older children and teenagers and we hope they’ll come along and have a look and see what they might want to use on the day of their test or procedure.  We’d love them to tell us what they think of our new VR headsets.”

Maria will also be talking about other options that can be used, like numbing cream and the cold spray.

“Actually giving children and teenagers those choices just gives them a sense of control too, it’s good for them to say what they want. We can make sure the nurses who will be taking their bloods know about their choices, or if they’re going to be having the numbing cream, then we can advise parents how to go about getting that before the appointment and when to put it on.”

“It’s going to be really fun and it is going to be play based so the child or young person can do as little or as much as they want.  They can come to as many sessions as they want and they can stay for as long or as short as they want.“

“It’s all led by them.  We’re not going to push them into looking at things they really don’t want to, or talking about things they don’t want to. They can just come in, stay for 10 minutes if they want or they can stay for the whole 2 hours.  We’ll have lots of activities on offer, including some that aren’t even related to blood tests, because for some children just coming into the hospital can be quite daunting. So if they can come into the hospital and just play and enjoy themselves, that’s a great step.”