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RCN to draw up first ever protocol for ‘animal therapy’

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The Royal College of Nursing has announced that it will create the first ever nationwide protocol for animals in healthcare in a bid to encourage more hospitals to explore the therapy area.

The protocol will provide an evidence based-best practice criteria so that hospitals and other healthcare settings can introduce animals into the care environment, said the RCN yesterday.

“Anyone who’s worked in this area can see the amazing impact animals have”

Amanda Cheesley

The project was prompted by a recent survey, noted the college. It found that, while the majority of respondents thought animals were hugely beneficial to patients, most nurses said they were not allowed in their workplace.

The RCN survey found that 90% nurses believed animals could improve the health of patients with depression and other mental health problems, and 60% said their presence could speed recovery.

The college said it planned to launch its proposed new protocol later this year.

By following it, services would be able to ensure the safety of all involved, while allowing patients to enjoy the benefits that interaction with animals could bring, said the RCN.

With help from charities, nursing staff and healthcare organisations, the protocol’s development will be led by Amanda Cheesley, RCN professional lead for long-term conditions and end of life care.

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Amanda Cheesley

She 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 health care settings that most organisations are too concerned to try it out,” said Ms Cheesley.

“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,” she said.

She added: “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.”

The college announced the start of work on the protocol at an event on Thursday. At an RCN public lecture on the subject, animal therapy pioneer Lyndsey Uglow discussed how she and her golden retriever Leo had improved the lives of hundreds of children at Southampton Hospital.

Other examples of animal therapy reported on by Nursing Times in recent years have included lambs visiting community hospitals, and chickens and donkeys being taken to care homes.

In November 2014, the national media publicised the story of a dying pensioner who was been granted her last wish by having her beloved horse visit her in hospital (see main picture, above).

Sheila Marsh, 77, died hours after saying goodbye to Bronwen at the Royal Albert Edward Infirmary in Wigan. Staff wheeled her out on her bed into the hospital car park, where the horse was waiting.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Fantastic! This is not a moment too soon.

    A single trip to visit horses meant my disabled, poorly and demented mother suddenly improved amazingly in one day! She became verbally much more capable, physically astoundingly more mobile, more engaged with life and not just less aggressive but actually benevolent!!

    Bring it on.

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  • What a moving picture of the horse with the patient.Unbelievably touching.
    I am sure we have all seen how wonderfully animals benefit the mentally disaballed.

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