Partner Focus – UCLH

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Spread a Smile has been supporting and working with UCLH (University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust) for nearly 10 years through regular in person visits, online sessions, treat drops and much more.

The Royal National ENT and Eastman Dental Hospitals, is one of UCLH’s specialist hospitals, with the Paediatric Dentistry Unit sees complex patients for whom a typical dental visit in primary care would be difficult. Since November 2022 in partnership with the hospital we have been trialing the use of therapy dogs to provide support for patients visiting the Unit to help reduce anxiety and stress.

We spoke to Paul Ashley, Professor/Honorary Consultant, Paediatric Dentistry about how this exciting new initiative is providing invaluable support for patients who would otherwise find a visit to the unit particularly challenging.

What was the reasoning behind involving Spread a Smile at the Paediatric Dentistry Unit?

“I was a committee member on the NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) guidance – ‘Babies, children and young people’s experience of healthcare’. It was clear from some of the focus group work carried out with children that therapy animals were really important to them. So, following this feedback, I decided to work with Spread a Smile to see how therapy dogs could help in our Unit.”

How does the initiative work practically?

UCLH - Patient with Thomas“The Spread a Smile team currently work with the families to help reduce stress and worry whilst they are waiting in the waiting room before a procedure. When the patient arrives, they are met by Thomas or Harry, one of the Spread a Smile’s Therapy Dogs, along with one of the Spread a Smile Entertainers. They stay with the patient in the waiting room, building up a rapport. They might sing or talk together and the therapy dog provides a soothing distraction for the child as they stroke their fur and pet them. It helps to calm the patient (and any family members) and reduce anxiety in the lead up to the procedure they are there for. “In the longer term we would like the Spread a Smile team to also then follow patients through into the treatment area to continue to support the child whilst any dental procedures are taking place.”

How have Spread a Smile helped to make a positive difference for patients?

“In general, the ‘vibe’ in the waiting room is lovely when we have the Spread a Smile team here. Everyone looks forward to their visits – staff as well as patients. They help provide a calmer, more fun environment which can only be of benefit to the patients and their families. The therapy dogs are a welcome distraction.”

Generally Spread a Smile supports our delivery of high-quality care for our patients, improving the experience for both patient and dentist.”

Please help us continue our vital work spreading smiles to children in hospital by donating today. Thank you.