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Over half of hospitals say they have no budget for toys for ‘crucial’ children’s playtime

During the festive period, thousands of seriously ill children will find themselves in hospital, away from home and sometimes separated from family.

Restrictions are still in place in many hospitals, meaning children are often only allowed to be with one parent at a time.

Usually, hospitals would provide toys and activities to keep children entertained.

But according to charity Starlight, this year, out of 510 hospitals asked, over half (53%) said they had no budget to provide the service.

Of the organisations that did have funds for play, their budget was often less than £500.

Cathy Gilman, CEO at Starlight, said: “We know that children need access to play as a crucial part of their development and to help them cope with life’s challenges.

“This is never more important than when they face the anxiety and uncertainty of serious illness, long-term conditions and hospital stays.”

The charity says playtime provides a welcome distraction for a few precious hours for children who are seriously ill.

But it can also have a huge impact on healthcare outcomes, sometimes saving the NHS money.

Julie Morris, who is a health play specialist, explains that it can help ease anxiety when it comes to “blood tests or scans”, but also helps when children end up in theatre.

“We go down with them to help distract them while they are having a cannula done or gas induction, and we do lots of general play,” she said.

It can also provide some much needed “me time” for parents who are supporting their children.

Niamh Keys and her nine-month-old daughter Nisha have spent the past nine weeks in and out of hospital.

She says the playtime they offered her little girl was “vitally important.”

Her daughter was unable to leave the cot because she was “wired to monitors and oxygen”.

Ms Keys said: “She was in isolation for a lot of that time, when the play team came round with toys and did a music class with her.

“It made a massive difference to her, but also to our mental health. To know we weren’t […] alone in the room for 24 hours of the day.”

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Starlight is calling on donations from members of the public to help provide play resources to an additional 300 hospitals over the festive period.

“Play is so important, and the play specialists are incredibly dedicated,” Ms Gilman said.

“We simply need more resources, budget, and recognition of the importance of play and how it can completely change the hospital experience for seriously ill children.”

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