A team of therapy dogs and their owners based at Southampton’s teaching hospitals have helped develop the first national protocol for the use of animals in healthcare.
Set to be launched by the Royal College of Nursing at its annual conference today (Monday), the guidelines will provide criteria and advice to help introduce animals into the care environment within hospitals and other health settings.
Animal Assisted Intervention (AAI) has been provided by volunteers from Pets as Therapy for a number of years at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, which is currently leading a groundbreaking study into its impact on patients’ health and wellbeing.
The project is being led by Lyndsey Uglow and Karen Ramsay with their therapy dogs Leo, Jessie, Totty, Hattie and Archie at Southampton Children’s Hospital and will help inform the future use of AAI across the NHS.
In 2016, the RCN conducted a national survey which found that although the majority of respondents thought animals were hugely beneficial to patients, many nurses said animals were not allowed in their workplace.
It is hoped the RCN protocol – which covers basics including health check-ups and inoculations and infection prevention – will allow healthcare providers to consider safely incorporating AAI into their organisations.
"I have visited all types of patients – from within elderly care to the children’s hospital – for six years now and it always gives me great satisfaction to see the joy it brings to them during what are often very difficult times,” said Lyndsey, who worked with the RCN to develop the protocol and holds a qualification in animal assisted therapy, activities and learning from the Institute for Human Animal Connection at the University of Denver in Colorado.
“It has been an absolute privilege to be part of the committee at the RCN on this very important milestone in the use of AAI in healthcare environments and I hope the work we have carried out in Southampton lays the foundations for similar projects nationwide.”
Amanda Cheesley, RCN professional lead for long-term conditions and end-of-life care who led the initiative, said: “Anyone who’s worked in this area can see the amazing impact animals have on the health of adults and children alike, however, there are so many myths around the dangers of having animals in healthcare settings that most organisations are too concerned to try it out.
“This protocol will help to dispel these fears by supporting hospitals to include animals in the care they deliver in a safe and professional way.
"We hope that it will encourage all health services to consider how animals can help their patients and help us to remove the taboo from what is a really remarkable area of care.”
Kate Pye, head of nursing at Southampton Children’s Hospital, added: “We know from the constant feedback we receive from patients, families, staff and members of the public just what a positive impact therapy dogs have in hospitals.
“We are also delighted to be working alongside Lyndsey and other therapy dog handlers in Southampton who have been at the forefront of the development of these guidelines with the RCN which we hope will lead to many more patients benefitting in the future.”
Posted on Monday 14 May 2018