Making hospital hospitable for little monkeys

Sarah Stacey explains why children are going ape for a soothing new programme for child patients... Most adults feel a little anxious about going to hospital, but for children even a blood test can be terrifying. In addition to those who are referred by their GPs, children and young people account for one in four admissions to A&E. As well as upsetting themselves, frightened children can take up a lot of staff time. Now a sensible and comforting resource called Monkey Wellbeing (, supported by NHS Patient Experience, helps children (and their parents) to understand what is going on.

The notion of using a monkey as a child patient came about when Helen Sadler’s 18-month-old daughter Josephine, now seven, had to undergo two serious and complicated operations. ‘She was born with a malformed lung and a cyst in her chest cavity. We didn’t know if we would be able to bring her home so we wanted to make sure her time in hospital was a really big adventure.’

As a primary school teacher, nursery nurse and ‘most importantly, a mother’, Helen certainly knew the power of storytelling. But she also realised that ‘to take it all on board, little ones need lots of time to revisit the subject, so I wanted to do something lasting, rather than explaining in speech every time.’

Using pictures of an engaging-looking monkey (Josephine’s favourite toy), Helen created a storybook to explain Josephine’s experience simply and clearly. The staff at the Alex Children’s Hospital in Brighton were seriously impressed. ‘One nurse told me Josephine was incredible. Instead of being frightened by the machines, she was laughing and mirroring the beeping noises.’

Monkey Gloe PuppetThe handwritten Monkey book became so popular at the hospital that the surgeons asked Helen to produce it professionally. Her husband Daniel did a 100-mile sponsored walk to pay for the first tranche of printing. And Monkey Wellbeing was launched. Today there is a huge range of topics covering many aspects of children’s health and wellbeing. It is eminently practical, even down to checklists of things to take into hospital, both for children and parents. There is also a Monkey Glove Puppet, £9.95.

In 2013, a Monkey Wellbeing teaching pack was sent out to every primary school in England. An evaluation of its impact by Liverpool John Moores University concluded that the interactive resource was ‘useful, engaging and informative, catering to a wide range of abilities, including children with learning disabilities’.

‘Being prepared makes these situations easier for the whole family, especially for the children,’ says Helen.


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