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Empowering sick children by asking their opinion

Lisa Whitehead, Mandie Foster and Victoria CullensFrom left, Associate Professor Lisa Whitehead, Dr Mandie Foster and Victoria Cullens

Seriously ill children in Christchurch Hospital are being asked what they need from the health system, in what could be a world first.

Paediatric nurse, Dr Mandie Foster and Associate Professor Lisa Whitehead of the University of Otago, Christchurch’s Centre for Postgraduate Nursing Studies have developed a questionnaire to explore the needs of school-aged patients. It is possibly the only one of its kind, and is already attracting international attention with other hospitals wanting to adapt and adopt it.

Associate Professor Whitehead says the questionnaire has so far been given to seriously unwell children in Christchurch Hospital’s high dependency unit. It contains a series of questions about what things young people consider to be important in hospital and whether these needs are being met.

“What we have found is that young people generally want things such as internet access, for their parents to be able to stay overnight with them and remain involved in their care, and to feel understood by staff. An important outcome of the questionnaire is the feedback that young people are excited to be asked about their needs instead of questions always being directed at their parents or caregivers.”

Associate Professor Whitehead says a critical part of the project’s success has been involvement of Canterbury District Health Board staff such as Victoria Cullens, who is a clinical nurse specialist with the paediatric high dependency unit and liaises with whānau in the unit about being part of the research.

The researchers have validated the questionnaire for use in the hospital setting and are looking to develop a version for the community setting. There is a high level of interest from collaborators in Australia, Iceland and the USA to use the questionnaire as it is the first to explore the child’s perspective.