Therapy dogs help to calm young patients in children’s hospital

Study recommends nationwide roll-out of the scheme

Study recommends nationwide roll-out of the scheme

The dogs can provide a distraction during examinations. Picture: PA

The use of therapy dogs in a children's hospital has helped reduce anxiety among young patients awaiting medical investigations and examinations, according to a new study.

Southampton Children’s Hospital is now calling for a nationwide roll-out of the use of therapy dogs, to make young people more comfortable and less worried while in hospital.

Calming influence

During a year-long study of animal-assisted intervention (AAI) at the hospital, three volunteer handlers with five golden retriever dogs provided AAIs across all eight children’s wards including day, medical, surgical, oncology and intensive care.

Interventions ranged from ‘meet and greet’ sessions to assisting in calming patients during nursing care, physiotherapy and occupational therapy. The dogs also provided distraction during blood-taking and other processes such as radiology examinations.

The study surveyed 200 staff and patients, of which 59 were nurses. The results, published in the British Journal of Nursing, show an overwhelmingly positive response to the service, with 100% of respondents saying similar AAIs should be used in hospitals across the country.

No concerns were raised by the respondents regarding the presence, cleanliness or behaviour of the dogs.

Safety first

Lyndsey Uglow, lead therapy dog handler at Southampton Children’s Hospital, said: ‘The results of this survey have confirmed that the initiation of a formal therapy dog service in an acute UK children’s hospital environment has been overwhelmingly positive and supported by patients, parents and staff.

‘To ensure the safe development of a therapy dog service, handlers need to follow a well-researched and considered protocol to ensure safety for all concerned, including the dogs, but it can be done and there is a growing evidence base for it.

‘We understand a therapy dog visit would not be appropriate for every type of patient. However, where it is possible, the results of this study show that patients, staff and visitors enjoy the benefit of the human-animal bond when they see one of our dogs on the wards.’

A 2016 survey of 751 RCN members found that nine out of ten nurses believe animals can improve the health of patients with depression and other mental health problems.

More than 80% thought animals can improve communication difficulties, such as for people with autism, and 82% said that animals, dogs in particular, encouraged patients to be more physically active. 

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