Tim Henman Foundation

Grant to Oxford Children's Hospital

Funding sensory and distraction resources in Children’s A&E at Oxford Children’s Hospital

What are the issues?

The Children’s A&E Department at the Oxford Children’s Hospital sees more than 30,000 children every year.  As is well-documented in the national press, there are enormous demands on both Children’s and Adults’ A&E departments across the country which are manifesting themselves in long waits in extremely stressful circumstances for patients, families and staff.  Nobody wants to be in a hospital for longer than they need to.  Sensory resources enable a more relaxing, welcoming and positively stimulating environment – making patients and families feel calmer during their wait and treatment within the department – and specialist sensory equipment would especially benefit those patients with additional needs. The improvements to access and provision would enable the play service in the department to become more inclusive and better able to meet each patient’s individual needs.

Although well-loved, the current supply of distraction books and resources in Children’s A&E is minimal, old and well-worn – some being held together with Sellotape –  and with many items shared with in-patient wards, there simply is not enough of a variety of resources suitable for different age groups and needs that is available when required. 

Health play specialists use distraction techniques to support patients through medical procedures such as blood tests, cannulation, wound closures, burns, dressings, bone manipulations and many more.  A varied range of sensory resources will support patients in these challenging situations, and would be specifically chosen to suit each patient’s age, stage of development and individual needs as well as being portable and suitable for storing safely. 


The THF provides financial assistance in the form of grants to organisations where there is a high level of need.  Oxford Children’s Hospital applied to the THF for a grant to provide distraction and sensory therapy for patients and families attending Children’s A&E by purchasing equipment including books, sound books, sensory toys, toy instruments, CDs with calming nature sounds and bubble machines together with special items such as iPads and hospital-focused apps to guide children through their proposed procedures.  In addition the grant covered the cost of a solar projector and magnetic effects wheels to use with the projector.  The fibre optic glow tails, commonly called ‘spaghetti lights’ are a set of lights which are long enough to drape over your body, creating a calming and personal sensory space, which reduces anxiety, improves attention and enhances social skills so that clinicians can communicate more effectively with a scared child.  Finally the grant enabled the purchase of a Sensory Voyager Hurricane trolley; a portable kaleidoscope of colour, sound and touch that can utilise the spaghetti lights.  Like the other items, this is portable and can be wheeled through the ward to give children a truly interactive calming experience. See the Sensory Voyager here.

Emily Hodgkins, a senior play specialist in the Children’s A&E, has told THF that the Sensory Voyager is always in use and that children with sensory needs find this very therapeutic which helps normalise the environment for them. In particular, babies feeling poorly and upset have loved to watch the bubble tube, fibre optic lights and projector images with fish, space and pets. This has had a calming and relaxing effect on them whilst distracting them from what has brought them to hospital in the first place. Emily has captured a lovely moment when Miles enjoyed the light aspects of this sensory toolkit.


One of the most critical aspects of this project was the ability that sensory items and play can bring in promoting a sense of normalcy for children in the hospital.  Being admitted to a hospital is scary and anxiety-provoking for anyone, but especially for a child.  Play, particularly with sensory items, provides the right tools for children to ground themselves through the engagement of the senses. This enhanced range of sensory resources funded by THF has made Children’s A&E a calmer, more relaxing, welcoming and positive environment for patients and their families whilst they await treatment.

The Sensory Voyager has also helped older children and even parents relax in the busy and stressful hospital environment.  The team successfully used the equipment in the CT scanner, making fish swim around it!  And it has been deployed whilst children receive injections, helping distract and calm them during the procedures.  Other children’s wards in the hospital have now noticed how much the Voyager has helped calm patients and are looking at ways to fundraise for their very own equipment.

As of the date of this report, approximately 3,750 children, mainly aged under 16, have seen the benefit of the THF grant-funded sensory equipment.  The successful distraction of patients in Children’s A&E has supported their healthcare experience in improving pain management, helping them attend worrying tests such as MRI scans and injections without sedation, and completion of other medical interventions.  THF has helped give the play specialists at Children’s A&E a considerable array of resources to choose from, helping each child access a range of inclusive sensory tools to suit their needs.  This has already had a knock-on effect in shorter patient waiting times and less pressure on clinical staff as well as vastly improving the inclusivity of the play service provision at Oxford Children’s Hospitals Children’s A&E.