Hong Kong hospitals urged to play game over child life staffing

Specialists from the United States say child life staff can aid children’s recovery and make hospital stays less frightening

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 August, 2016, 6:41pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 August, 2016, 10:58pm

Health experts have called for the inclusion of child life specialists, who put youngsters at ease and help their recovery through play, as staff at hospitals.

As child life services are currently only offered by two NGOs in around 10 hospitals in the city, experts from two leading US hospitals suggested that the 460-bed Hong Kong Children’s Hospital, which will open in 2018, has an opportunity to include the role in its operation.

“The new children’s hospital should have a child life department that actually has child life specialists as part of the hospital structure,” Jill Koss, child life director at Cook Children’s Medical Centre in Texas, told the Post last week when she visited Hong Kong.

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Guidelines released by the British Department of Health in 2003 recommend that all children staying in hospital should have daily access to a play specialist, who could provide recreation and help a child cope with the potentially frightening environment.

Dr Bill Chan Hin-biu, chief of service of the United Christian Hospital’s paediatrics department, said child life specialists could help children cope with their emotions without the need for sedatives, which can lead to side effects such as confusion and longer hospital stays for observation.

“Pain can be managed, but fear cannot ... the specialists could teach children how to cope with stress,” said Chan.

He agreed that child life specialists should be seen as “equally important”as doctors and nurses.

“Child life service is not a luxury, not a part-time job, but a basic service,” he said.

But not all hospitals in the city have access to the services, which were first introduced in 1991 to Prince of Wales Hospital, with staff now only provided by the NGO’s Children’s Cancer Foundation and Playright.

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Patrice Brylske, who heads the child life programme at Johns Hopkins Children’s Centre in Maryland, said the level of service in Hong Kong matches the level in the United States, but more should be done going forward.

Tammy Loy Sze-wah, professional services manager in child life for the foundation, said their play specialists cannot always ­access patients’ medical records, which prevents them from making written notification to doctors on how prepared the child is for treatment, such as decision on whether medication is necessary to calm the child down.

“Now I can only update nurses or doctors through oral messages. Doctors of the next shift might not know sleeping pills are necessary,” said Loy.

A spokesman for the Hospital Authority said services from NGOs are welcome for the Children’s Hospital. At present, health care staff who have received relevant training are also providing play therapy in hospitals, he said.