Nurses and other healthcare professionals have shown “overwhelming” support for a nationwide roll out of therapy dogs on hospital wards, new research has indicated.
A study into the effect of therapy dogs at Southampton Children’s Hospital saw a 100% recommendation from staff and parents for similar animal assisted intervention (AAI) to be implemented across the UK.
“The therapy dog visits have proven so positive for our patients, their families and for staff”
The study – titled The benefits of an animal-assisted intervention service to patients and staff at a children’s hospital – was published in the British Journal of Nursing and saw reseachers survey 200 staff and parents across a 12-month period.
It was written by, and based on the work of, lead therapy dog handler, Lyndsey Uglow, who has been visiting the hospital with her golden retrievers three days a week for the past seven years.
According to the research, the presence of the dogs reduced anxiety in young patients when waiting for tests, investigations and examinations.
In addition, her study found that children who were previously nervous around dogs reported less fear as a result of the visits.
It also flagged that no concerns were raised in relation to the presence, cleanliness and behaviour of the dogs.
“Handlers need to follow a well-researched and considered protocol to ensure safety”
Ms Uglow and her fellow Pets as Therapy handlers – Karen Ramsay, Hannah Ramsay and Liz Wilkinson – initiated the project with their therapy dogs Leo, Jessie, Milo, Hattie, Quin and Archie.
While the team had received constant positive anecdotal feedback from patients, families and staff, Ms Uglow explained that in order to establish an AAI in the healthcare setting, they needed to “strengthen the evidence” behind it.
“The results of this survey have confirmed that the initiation of a formal therapy dog service in an acute UK children’s hospital environment has been overwhelmingly positive and supported by patients, parents and staff,” said Ms Uglow.
She added: “To ensure the safe development of a therapy dog service, handlers need to follow a well-researched and considered protocol to ensure safety for all concerned, including the dogs, but it can be done and there is a growing evidence base for it.
“We understand a therapy dog visit would not be appropriate for every type of patient however, where it is possible, the results of this study show that patients, staff and visitors enjoy the benefit of the human-animal bond when they see one of our dogs on the wards,” she said.
“The positive effects of AAI have been clear to me for such a long time and I am delighted the patients and staff who responded to the surveys have confirmed this,” said Ms Uglow.
“The results of this study show that patients, staff and visitors enjoy the benefit of the human-animal bond”
Since the completion of the study, which was funded by the Humanimal Trust, the team has also been used to support anxious paediatric patients prior to surgery, with positive results.
There are now plans to launch a further study focusing on paediatric intensive care, noted the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust.
Ms Uglow holds a certificate in animal assisted therapy, activity and learning from the Institute for Human Animal Connection at the University of Denver.
She was also the AAI advisor to the Royal College of Nursing for its Working with Dogs in Healthcare Settings protocol, which developed national guidelines published in May 2018, as previously reported by Nursing Times.
Kate Pye, head of nursing at Southampton Children’s Hospital and nursing fellow at NHS England and NHS Improvement, said: “The therapy dog visits have proven so positive for our patients, their families and for staff for such a long period of time and the work carried out in Southampton was instrumental in the development of the RCN’s protocol.
“It was a pleasure to support Lyndsey and her colleagues through this pioneering study and we are extremely grateful to them and all of our Pets as Therapy volunteers for the work they do to improve patients’ experiences with us,” she said.