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Roald Dahl Play Specialist Post Update

Roald Dahl Play Specialist Post Update

At the end of last year Roald Dahl's Marvellous Children's Charity (RDMCC) generously made a grant to UCL Hospitals Charitable Foundation to fund a Play Specialist to work in the Paediatric Outpatients Team at University College Hospital (UCH) for two years.  This is the first Roald Dahl Play Specialist post in the country and following a successful recruitment process Elizabeth (Liz) Coombs was appointed to the position.  Liz has been in post for six months now and we are delighted to provide you with an update on the work that she has been doing to help long-term chronically sick children.

The Paediatric Outpatients Department is one of the UK's busiest units and receives referrals from both the local area as well as from across the country. Liz's first priority was to establish her new role as the Roald Dahl Play Specialist firmly within the hospital setting, and she has successfully done this, supporting more than 300 children in the short time that she has been in post.  Working with children whose conditons range from diabetes to sickle cell disease and epilepsy, Liz covers condition specific clinics that run every week in Outpatient Clinics, as well as working with haematology patients who visit the ward to receive blood transfusions on a weekly basis as part of their long-term treatment plan.  A referral system has been established so that staff can specifically request Liz's one on one support for patients who will benefit from her expertise, and she regularly finds herself providing reassurance to anxious patients, be it for a routine test or a new diagnosis.

The main focus of the Play Specialist role is to support children, young people and their families throughout their hospital journey.  Liz does this in a number of ways; through therapeutic play, educating and enabling expression of feelings; by preparing and supporting patients through tests and procedures, providing distraction and coping techniques and through creating positive experiences and associations within the hospital environment whenever possible.  Liz's collaboration with the psychology team means that she is able to advise on and provide specialist support to patients with very specific needs that may complicate their treatment plans, for example, patients with needle phobia.

When young patients are diagnosed with long-term conditions it has a huge impact, not only on patients, but also on their families and carers.  Long stays in hospital, coming to terms with a new diagnosis, the financial impact of regular visits to hospital and the long-term impact on parents, such as their ability to remain in employment whilst being there for their child, all contribute to the anxiety that can pervade the family unit, with wider implications for siblings and other family members.  The addition of these considerations to the inevitable existing emotional stress of supporting a chronically ill child can often be challenging and Liz regularly liaises with the parents of patients after clinics to follow up and organise play specialist sessions that are tailored to their children's needs.

Now that the Roald Dahl Play Specialist role has been firmly embedded within the hospital, Liz (pictured right with a patient) hopes to develop a young people's network group for epilepsy patients, along with a parent's support group for children with diabetes.  Liz is also focusing on expanding her support by developing greater links with the community and hopes to be in a position to provide training to other bodies caring for children, such as schools and voluntary organisations in the near future.

Liz says "I am privileged to be the first Roald Dahl Play Specialist in the country and to have such a varied, exciting and challenging job.  I feel really proud and humbled to work with amazing children, young people and their families, many of whom experience very difficult times as a result of their chronic illness."

UCL Hospitals Charitable Foundation would like to say a huge thank you to Roald Dahl's Marvellous Children's Charity for funding the Roald Dahl Play Specialist post.