Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust has become the latest trust to introduce the Little Journey smartphone app, which helps children understand what to expect when they come to the hospital for surgery.

Little Journey features animated characters and virtual reality to give young patients a tour of the different areas of the hospital they will visit when coming in for a medical procedure.

It’s been designed to help children and young patients familiarise themselves with the hospital and provide peace of mind while preparing for their visit.

Animated characters pop up to answer any questions about what to expect from the visit, and patients can also watch videos that talk through what happens when they come in for surgery, all of which can be tailored to the patient’s age.

Meanwhile, a parents section helps prepare other family members for the theatre journey with extra practical information and checklists, and even a breathing exercise to help everyone relax.

The app is available free of charge via Google Play and the App Store.

Dr Nina Plant, consultant paediatric anaesthetist at Sheffield Children’s, said the app made the idea of coming to hospital more manageable for young patients and their families.

“We’re delighted to be able to offer this app to patients of all ages,” Dr Platt said.

“The run up to having surgery can be a stressful time– this wonderful app allows patients and families to understand what will happen when they come to the hospital and what it looks like before they come in.

“We hope that this will educate patients and families about the process, lower stress and anxiety when they come in for surgery. Overall, we hope it makes their experience here easier and more relaxed.”

Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust has teamed up with app designers Little Sparks to launch the Little Journey app.

The app is already used in other trusts, having launched at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals in August 2019, and can be adapted specifically for the children and families it serves.

Making surgery less scary

Every year, Sheffield Children’s sees 10,000 patients for planned surgery. In the UK overall more than 500,000 children undergo planned surgery.

Anxiety before surgery is common, occurring in around three-quarters of these children, meaning knowing what is going to happen can help reduce this.

When a child is booked in for surgery at Sheffield Children’s, they’ll be provided with details of the app so they can play with it in the comfort of their own home.

It can even be viewed in virtual reality by attaching a headset to their smartphone.

Caimbria Lockwood​, a play specialist at Sheffield Children’s, said: “We value the art of play here and use it to reduce anxiety around medical procedures and to help explain and educate families about what happens at hospital.

“We use technology and simple arts and crafts, so this app is a great addition to help our patients have the smoothest and least stressful journey to surgery as possible.”