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The healthcare heroes: Life during a pandemic and beyond | Meet Maddy

Maddy Branduardi has been a Lead Play Specialist at The Portland Hospital, part of HCA Healthcare UK, for two years. Here, she shares how a play specialist can prepare a child for surgery and how the team have had to think outside of the box to keep the children entertained whilst in hospital during a global pandemic. 

What made you want to become a play specialist?

I haven’t always been a play specialist - I started off my career as a music teacher, but after doing that for a few years I wanted to try something a bit more therapeutic whilst still working with children and teenagers. I only really stumbled upon the role of a play specialist whilst watching a healthcare documentary, and knew immediately that it was something I would be interested in. I completed my two years of training and I’ve never looked back. I’ve now worked as a play specialist for 12 years – 10 years at University College Hospital London and now two years at The Portland Hospital

What did a typical day look like for you before the COVID-19 pandemic?

I don’t think many people know what a play specialist does in a hospital, which is why this interview is great! I lead a team of five play specialists, and we spend our days preparing children and teenagers for their medical procedures.  

We firstly use play to understand where the child or teenager is at in terms of their development, so that we can ensure we communicate appropriately. Depending on their age, they might need help understanding why they’re in hospital and what will happen during their medical procedure, or if they’re younger, they might require distraction therapy to divert their attention whilst a procedure is taking place. For very young babies, a lot of our work involves explaining procedures to parents and supporting and reassuring them. 
 

Did your role change due to the pandemic?

During COVID-19, like many other professions, we have had to adapt how we provide care. Our playrooms have had to shut to protect the safety of our patients, and we had to pause giving out toys for the children to play with. However, our team saw this as an opportunity to get creative! We started creating engaging activity packs for the children, which included things such as colourings and wordsearches which they could do in their room, which they loved.  

We also stuck famous children’s characters on our PPE visors when we went to visit the children so that they could laugh and have a little bit of fun whilst in hospital, which was important to the team. Fortunately, due to every child now being swabbed for COVID-19 on arrival at The Portland, we’re able to give out toys to the children to play with – these are of course all repeatedly cleaned to ensure that they’re safe for children. 
 

How have your patients and their families responded to the changes which have occurred due to the pandemic?

Children are naturally nervous to come into hospital, and this has of course been amplified due to COVID-19. Through our role, we have also helped explain to children in an age-appropriate way about COVID-19 and the safety precautions in place, so that they understand why all of the team are wearing PPE for example. 

When it comes to the parents, of course they’re worried about their child having a procedure, especially during these times, but once they’re in our hospital they feel so reassured that they’re in the safest of environments. Parents are also incredibly grateful that their child is able to have surgery during this time, which is always so lovely to hear. 

To find out more about the care we provide at The Portland Hospital, click here
 
Watch this short video to learn more about the way HCA Healthcare UK has adapted the way healthcare is provided in its hospitals and clinics.  
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