Gateshead Health’s children’s unit becomes the first in the region to hit the gold standard in caring for neurodivergent children

The Children’s department at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead has been awarded the ‘Gold Standard for Autism Acceptance’ from the North East Autism Society (NEAS). Gateshead Health is the first children’s department in the region to receive this honour after tailoring care for neurodivergent children.  

The team  introduced a range of activities designed to make autistic and neurodivergent patients more comfortable in their visits to the hospital.

Michelle Thomas, Paediatrics ward manager reflected on the award:

We get a lot of children who are autistic or neurodiverse, and I’m immensely proud of what’s been achieved with the help of the North East Autism Society. The award is the result of a lot of hard work and care across the whole team

Michelle Thomas, Paediatrics Ward Manager at Gateshead Health

One of the initiatives to help children is distraction packs, which were introduced for children visiting the Accident and Emergency (A&E) department and are now used across the hospital. Nursery Nurse Wendy Oliver developed the packs to help children when wait times are longer or the department is busy. The team worked with parents to gather feedback and ideas on the pack with some suggesting adding sunglasses to help with light and adding more sensory options.

Distraction packs
Distraction packs developed for children

An audit was carried out by NEAS in the children’s unit and A&E. This lead to the introduction of sensory toys, tents, wobble boards and cushions as well as a visual timetable to show the journey through the hospital. The charity’s Family Development Manager, Kerrie Highcock, said the award was “richly deserved”.

Staff nurse and autism lead, Ashleigh Harrison, designed a care passport that will help children communicate when visiting hospital. The passports includes key information about the child, their preferences and how they like to be treated. This helps the child feel comfortable and lets the nurses tailor care to prevent distress.

Care passport

Ashleigh, whose four-year-old son, Jack, is autistic said, “I am keen to make a difference to children and support parents. I understand how difficult it can be to bring an autistic child into hospital and I want to improve the service and make it easier for patients.” Ashleigh and the team worked closely with parents to understand what small changes can be made to improve the patient and parent experience.

All doctors, nurses, and health care assistants in the children’s unit have completed training by NEAS, which is encouraging and will hugely benefit our neurodiverse patients at Gateshead Health.

Consultant paediatrician, Carmen Howey commented on the project:

By introducing these measures we have made it easier for children to be comfortable in the environment that we offer. This means it’s easier for health care practitioners to make a good assessment of their health needs.

Carmen Howey, Consultant Paediatrician at Gateshead Health
Paediatrics team
Paediatrics team with Family Development Manager, Kerrie Highcock

Well done to the whole team for this achievement. Your hard work and dedication to patient care is invaluable.