Every hour of every day, staff on the Rays of Sunshine Ward at King's College Hospital work together to care for sick children with liver disease, and their families. They strive to make each hospital stay the best it can possibly be and overseeing all of this vital work is Ward Sister, Niamh Whelan.
“My job is to ensure the smooth running and day-to-day management of the ward,” says Niamh, who was a nurse on the ward before she became Ward Sister.
“I manage a team of 40 people, including nurses at various grades, healthcare assistants and a family support worker. I also work closely with surgeons, doctors, pharmacists, psychologists, our play specialist, youth worker and our housekeepers in order to ensure that, as a team, we deliver the highest standards of care to our patients and their families.
“As a children’s ward, we don’t just treat and care for our young patients; we also support their wider family circle and sometimes it’s the family members that need more holistic care."
“For example, some of our patients are very young and if you, as a first-time parent, find out that your new born baby has a condition that’s most likely going to predispose them to needing a transplant in the future that can be terrifying – especially if you’re far away from home.”
Taking time to care
Work on the 18-bed ward is highly organised and often fast paced but Niamh and her colleagues believe it is crucial that they take time to build trust and rapport with their patients and families.
“Hospital can be a very scary place, irrespective of what age you are, but particularly if you are a child or a young person."
“So we have a responsibility to make it less intimidating so that their hospital experience is the best that it can be", says Niamh.
“We try to create an environment where patients can have fun with us and joke with us and we have activities and resources to help distract them from what’s going on. For example, we’ve got a playroom, play stations and TVs and we can sometimes take the children up to the helipad to see what’s going on up there if there are no emergencies and the children are well enough.
“The physical environment is very important too. We have neutral colours on the walls and we avoid putting up any hospital posters that might seem frightening to the children.”
Although stressful at times, Niamh believes that her work brings special rewards.
“Families will never forget their time in hospital; it will be in their minds forever,” says Niamh.
“If we can make their experience a little less scary – even through small gestures such as bringing someone a cup of tea when they’re feeling really anxious or sitting beside someone when they’re tearful – we can hopefully ensure that they will remember their stay in a positive way.
“When you see children that come into the hospital so unwell and then you get to see them walk out of here, that’s very special."
"There are very few jobs in the world that allow you to experience that and when they come back to visit you months and then years later – it makes everything worthwhile.”
Determined to do more
Niamh would love to do even more to help the families who find themselves on Rays of Sunshine Ward.
“Many families here are a long way from home and often stay for weeks or months on end,” says Niamh. “It would be great if we could improve the hospital environment to make it a more welcoming and homely place.
“We’d also love to be able to improve the nursery on the ward. I believe there is lots that can be done to improve the environment to make it more comfortable for both infants and their families."
By making a donation to our TLC Appeal, your support could help make the hospital environment more child friendly and less daunting for children who have a long stay or are facing major life saving surgery.