Leeds Hospitals Charity has committed £36,686 to fund a specialist dialysis play lead, supporting children who need to have weekly haemodialysis to replace the function of the kidneys when they stop working properly.

Olivia Jessop, Registered Health Play Specialist - Paediatrics Liver and Renal, is working on Ward 50 at Leeds Children’s Hospital.

Play has endless special therapeutic value for children in hospital and is vitally needed to support children on haemodialysis.

The haemodialysis team provides treatment for children with kidney disease. Children and young people travel far from different areas across Yorkshire and the Humber regions to access the full range of renal replacement therapy offered by the team.

In haemodialysis, your blood is allowed to flow, a few millilitres at a time, through a special filer that removes wastes and extra fluids to replace the work of your kidneys. The clean blood is then returned to your body. Most patients need to have dialysis three times a week for 3-5 hours.

Hospitalisation can be a threatening and stressful experience for children, and therapeutic play is recognised as a key factor in reducing medical related traumatic stress.

Olivia offers normalised and preparation play sessions to help the children understand their illness and treatment, correct any misconceptions and to express their feelings. Normalised play creates positive experiences and enjoyment, which is essential for children and young people who travel far and sit connected to a dialysis machine for several hours.

She helps them prepare for the sessions through role play – using a doll with a dialysis line to show them how it will work and what will be expected of them – and employing distraction techniques to take the focus away from the procedure or pain.

The relationships that Olivia builds with the children and the families also helps when children are called for kidney transplant and post-transplant.

Olivia explains how her support is making a huge difference to children and young people:

“It can be very difficult for children and young people coming into hospital for haemodialysis as the machines alarm if a child is constantly moving or fidgeting therefore play is vital in helping distract and keep the child calm.

Thanks to the effort we put in at the beginning to engage them and build a positive relationship with them and their families, most children do get used to it and treat it as part of their weekly routine. This makes it easier and less stressful for everyone involved – staff, the family and of course the child.”