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Research and Projects

Hospital Communications

Who is involved?

Theme: Person-Centred Care
Status: Live

Read a BITE sized summary of this project.


Hospital admissions in children with long-term neurological conditions are common.  It is therefore crucial that communication between staff and families is clear and that a therapeutic relationship is formed, for the benefit of the child. Communication is particularly likely to be a major issue for children with a learning disability or those who find social interaction difficult. A review of the scientific literature by researchers at the Peninsula Cerebra Research Unit (PenCRU) found that many parents perceive that health professionals do not have the necessary skills to communicate successfully with these children, and that this lack of skills and experience is recognised by many health professionals.

Although there are no formal guidelines on how staff should communicate with disabled children and their families, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) expresses a commitment to provide opportunities for parents, carers and the public to work with health professionals to collect evidence that can form guidance.

Project aims

The Hospital Communications project aims to work with children with disabilities and their families to improve staff communication with children in hospital. Our work should result in more effective communication, meaning that time spent in hospital is less stressful for children and families. Improving communication will also enable staff and parents to agree on, and adhere to, the treatment the child receives.

Children with neurological conditions tend to be admitted to hospital more frequently than other children. Many of these children will have difficulties with communication. We plan to develop a training package focusing on improving communication skills for health professionals, which could be delivered by parents/carers of disabled children.

We have secured funding from the RD&E Foundation Trust Small Grants scheme to enable us to produce, pilot and evaluate a parent-delivered training package.

Project activity

This study involves parents, clinicians and researchers co-developing and piloting a training package for health professionals to improve communication with children in hospital through several stages. 

We carried out a structured review of previous research studies about factors affecting disabled children’s experience of being in hospital. The findings suggest that communication plays a key role. A paper describing this work has been published online. A plain language summary is also available. 

We completed a qualitative analysis of interviews with parents of children that had recently stayed in hospital, and interviews or focus groups with hospital staff working on children’s wards. The findings identify barriers to effective communication, and also some factors that helped to improve communication. A published article and a plain language summary of the paper is available. 

We used the information from the review and qualitative study to develop a training package for health professionals. Parents from PenCRU's Family Faculty have been involved in designing and delivering the training package. The training has been delivered on five occasions, and refined each time based on feedback and reflections. Once we are satisfied with the training, we will document the content and delivery strategy to enable it to be replicated by others in other locations.

Related publications

Sharkey S, Lloyd C, Tomlinson R, Thomas E, Martin A, Logan S, Morris C. Communicating with disabled children when inpatients: barriers and facilitators identified by parents and professionals in a qualitative study. Health Expectations 2014, 19:3. 

Shilling, V., Edwards, V., Rogers, M. and Morris, C. (2012). The experience of disabled children as inpatients: a structured review and synthesis of qualitative studies reporting the views of children, parents and professionals. Child: Care, Health and Development, 38: 778–788.

Others Involved

Val Shilling, Siobhan Sharkey, Claire Lloyd