Hundreds of extra appointments at children’s hospitals on ‘Super Saturday’

Children’s hospitals across the country are putting on extra clinics today as part of an NHS ‘Super Saturday’ drive to address COVID backlogs.

Staff are putting on hundreds of appointments as part of the ambitious NHS accelerator programme.

Some hospitals taking part will use virtual reality to distract youngsters during surgery, avoiding the need for more powerful anaesthetics, and LEGO play techniques to help families explain any barriers to attending appointments and come up with solutions.

In Sheffield, a children’s bus will be out in the city promoting good oral hygiene to prevent them needing hospital visits or painful extractions.

The drive is part of the National Paediatric Accelerator Programme, designed to bring together NHS trusts to address waiting lists that inevitably built up during the COVID pandemic.

Hospitals have treated more than 600,000 patients with the virus, including 100,000 who have been admitted so far during the Omicron wave, even through the world-leading booster jabs rollout by the NHS vaccination programme which is estimated to have prevented another 100,000 admissions.

Alexandra Norrish, national director of the paediatric accelerator programme, said: “This Super Saturday will focus on the NHS’s younger patients, using things like virtual reality distraction therapy and LEGO play techniques to help reduce anxiety, and showing children and their families through parts of the hospitals involved in their care to make them less scary and unknown.

“The pandemic has inevitably had a knock-on effect on non-urgent care, but our incredible staff are still pulling out all the stops to rapidly recover routine services, and since the paediatric accelerator programme was launched last year we have already seen 37,000 additional appointments.

“Local teams continue to go above and beyond for patients, and through events like today’s paediatric Super Saturday we are ensuring as many children as possible benefit from the world-class care the NHS provides”.

The first Super Saturday took place in October last year, as part of a programme that has helped the children’s hospitals involved in the paediatric accelerator see tens of thousands of patients above pre-pandemic levels.

During Super Saturday some children undergoing minor surgery at Leeds Children’s Hospital will get to experience Virtual Reality Distraction Therapy (VRDT), which will see specialists accompany them into theatre to use cutting-edge VR equipment to help transport them to a different world, reducing anxiety, providing distraction, and removing the need for a more disruptive general anaesthetic.

The hospital has been conducting research into the application of VRDT in partnership with Starlight Children’s Foundation, where patients undergoing minor surgical procedures are offered the therapy to help further understand the benefits of this innovative technology and its application in a medical setting.

They will be opening up an additional 150 outpatient spots, and seeing an extra 28 day theatre patients on Super Saturday.

At London’s Great Ormond Street, lab, pharmacy, and theatre teams will be running tours to show patients what happens during surgeries or during sample processing with the aim of removing fear and replacing it with curiosity.

Heart and lung transplant patients, and families who have been hesitant about surgery in the past or are afraid of needles will be shown around theatres to help reduce anxiety around procedures.

Mat Shaw, Chief Executive at GOSH said: “Super Saturday is a great opportunity for us to help even more children and young people as our services continue to recover from the effects of the pandemic.

“We have some brilliant activity planned for this weekend with lots of our staff getting stuck in. It is down to their hard work and dedication that we can continue to tackle waiting times for the patients and families that rely on us, so we say a huge thank you to all the teams taking part”.

Sheffield Children’s Hospital will be using another new approach in patient engagement by asking families about any barriers they experience attending appointments using Lego bricks, based on the ‘Lego Serious Play’ methodology. Creating something has been found to help those involved express their views and ideas more easily, and also enables much better discussions around their answers.

The Trust will be opening up an additional 40 theatre spots for paediatric dentistry and tooth extractions, as well as 150 outpatients at Allergy, Gastro Enterology, Respiratory, Rheumatology and ENT clinics.

The hospital will also be taking a new approach to running respiratory and rheumatology clinics – by joining the clinics up.

Lungs can be involved directly and indirectly in several rheumatological conditions, and in a single appointment children will be seen by both respiratory and rheumatology consultants who will monitor lung functions and adjust treatments seamlessly.

A ‘sensory-friendly’ vaccination clinic is also being held at Concord Leisure Centre, Sheffield for children and young people with autism and learning disabilities.

Gillian Keegan, Minister for Care said: “NHS staff have worked relentlessly to care for patients over the pandemic and continue to go the extra mile as we address the COVID-19 backlog.

“I am hugely thankful to those working this Super Saturday to provide extra appointments for children across a wide range of specialities”.