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'Complementary therapy can help children feel valued and special'

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The distressing side-effects of illnesses can be eased with complementary therapy, says Ginny McGivern

At the Nottingham Children’s Hospital (NCH) we offer a complementary therapy service to our young patients.

Since 1996 young patients with cancer, chronic fatigue and other illnesses have benefitted from massage, aromatherapy and relaxation.

Our complementary therapy service not only provides symptomatic relief and relaxation, but also allows our children and young people to escape from the ward environment and invasive treatments.

Children and young people can become worn down by their illnesses. They can become stressed and anxious about being in hospital and subsequent interventions. Complementary therapy is there to support the child and their family through treatment by offering them tender loving care, symptomatic relief and hopefully improving their quality of life.

‘As a profession we are advancing our technical skills but we are at risk of losing some of our fundamental nurturing qualities’

This can be as simple as looking forward to their individual massage or relaxation session, making them feel valued and special.

We also offer massage and “distraction” techniques to patients who may be nervous about certain procedures or treatments. We give the child, young person and parents the tools to cope with anxiety symptoms in the form of relaxation techniques and guided imagery.

By teaching these techniques, they can go home feeling more confident that they can treat themselves, empowering them to cope with their condition. We also teach parents and carers how to massage their babies at home.

Our work has not gone unnoticed and since 2010 we have been working closely with Great Ormond Street Hospital to set up a similar service at the London hospital.

Nottingham University Hospitals Trust was the first acute trust in the country to offer a nurse-led complementary therapy service for children and young people when it was established at the Queen’s Medical Centre and I am delighted that other hospitals are seeing the benefits.

Today we see on average 500 patients a year using this service and remain, with Great Ormond Street, the only NHS hospital to offer this service to children and young people.

Complementary therapy is not an alternative to medical treatment, it is as the name suggests, complementary. We are fortunate at NCH to have medical staff who support this service, realising it works best in combination with orthodox treatments and will not compromise the patient or their care.

A question I get asked frequently is ‘how are you funded?’ I am employed by the NCH but am totally funded by the Nottingham University Hospitals Charity and the Teenage Cancer Trust.

 I appreciate that there are severe constraints on the finances of our NHS service but I feel that there are so many tangible benefits to our young patients by offering a complementary therapy service.

As a profession we are advancing our technical skills but we are at risk of losing some of our fundamental nurturing qualities, which form the basic foundation of our profession. Complementary therapy enables us to nurture, care and help to ease many of the distressing side-effects of illnesses experienced by our young patients.

Ginny McGivern is complementary therapy nurse at Nottingham Children’s Hospital

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