Relieving anxiety among young patients through the arts


This is the award entry for the The Nature Trail - Follow the Fishes, entered by Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in the Best Collaborative Arts (Static) category

We know that children and families can find the process of preparing for surgery worrying.

From arriving at the hospital, to going into theatre, it involves a number of steps and encounters that healthcare staff often take for granted, but can be daunting and even overwhelming for children and young people.

If a patient is very distressed, operations can be delayed, and even cancelled,which causes significant strain on stretched NHS resources.

As part of the art strategy for the trust’s new clinical building the team wanted to look at how they could encourage the use of the existing artworks as a distraction tool and create additional resources that would help alleviate anxiety on the journey to surgery.

Hospital play specialists were involved from the very beginning of the project, giving advice and guidance on how to engage young people and how they might use the resource in actual theatre preparation.

The project took over a year to develop, with significant consultation with pre and post-surgery families and anaesthetists, who informed its content throughout.

The result is a beautiful children's book, Follow the Fishes, and accompanying activity sheet.

The book is inspired by The Nature Trail, an artwork by Jason Bruges Studio, which spans the surgery floor and is also featured in pre-anaesthetics.

The artwork features motion-sensitive LED panels that light up with moving animal figures as people pass along the corridors to theatre.

The book also references the Sea Scape mural in the main entrance, a colourful collection of fish created by GOSH patients, thereby creating a point of reference and familiarity from the moment children walk into the hospital building.

The book gently and playfully takes the reader though their journey to surgery, poetically describing some of the characters they might meet, things they might see, and experiences they will have when they come to the hospital.

It references the animal characters featured in both artworks and also animal ward names.

The poem in the book is by writer, Joanna Bennet, and the original paper cut artwork by illustrator, Sarah Dennis.

The book will be given to families when they come for their first pre-anaesthetic appointment and can be read at home to prepare patients, and their families, for their surgery at GOSH.

When they arrive at the hospital on their surgery day they will be given the activity resource to accompany the book, which they can explore while they wait for their anaesthetic team.

The activity is also illustrated by Dennis and includes colouring, search and find, and stickers which are given at various points throughout their journey to complete a picture.

This project shows the way in which commissioned artwork can inspire participatory activities and resources, which can, in turn, ensure commissions are more interactive and more likely to be used as an aid to distraction.

Bringing various teams in the hospital together to work collaboratively on its creation gives the project legitimacy and ensures it will be used to support patients and families.

According to The Lancet, Child and Adolescent Health, Vol 2, April 2018: “The result is a well-considered and beautifully-presented book that will hopefully go some way to alleviating fear and anxiety before surgery for young patients and their families.

Sign up for your free email newsletter

“Rather than being simply informative; approaches like this should help inspire confidence and make young patients feel better about their experiences of hospital.”