Hospital Play Specialist

The Job and What's Involved

Hospital play specialists lead play activities and use play as a therapeutic tool for children who are long-term inpatients or outpatients in hospitals or hospices. They may also work with children with severe disabilities who are being cared for at home.

Play specialists help infants, children and teenagers, and their work involves:

  • Organising daily play and art activities in the playroom or at the bedside.
  • Providing play to achieve developmental goals.
  • Helping children deal with the fear and insecurities of being away from their family.
  • Using play to prepare children for hospital procedures such as injections or operations.
  • Helping children cope with pain.
  • Helping children regain skills lost through the effects of illness.
  • Supporting families.
  • Contributing to clinical judgements through their observations of the child, including taking notes and writing reports for other professionals.
  • Encouraging children to develop friendships.
  • Advising parents, carers and staff on appropriate play for sick and injured children.
  • Organising parties and special events.

They work in teams alongside speech therapists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, psychologists, doctors and nurses.

Working hours vary and hospital play specialists may be full or part time. They may sometimes have to work over weekends and public holidays.

Children's hospitals have large play departments with up to 40 play specialists in each. In general hospitals, play teams or individual play specialists may work in outpatient departments, intensive care units, neonatal units, children's units and adolescent units.

Hospital play specialists may also work in children's clinics, in the community, in patients' homes and in hospices. They may also lead outdoor play sessions or take patients on outings.

The work is physically active, as play specialists are required to design, plan and organise play activities and arrange equipment.

Salaries for play assistants or newly qualified hospital play specialists range from £17,732 to £21,318 a year. With experience, play specialists might earn between £20,710 and £26,839.

Salaries for play specialist team managers range from £24,831 to £33,436.

Staff working in and around London are paid higher salaries.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Most hospital play specialists are employed by the National Health Service (NHS).

They are employed in:

- Children's hospitals
- General hospitals
- Hospices
- Community paediatric teams

The number of hospital play specialists has been slowly increasing. Vacancies may be advertised in local and national newspapers. They may also be advertised on the NHS jobs vacancy website ( and on the websites of the National Association of Hospital Play Staff and of recruitment agencies.

Education and Training

To qualify as a basic grade hospital play specialist, applicants need a foundation degree in healthcare play specialism. Entry to the foundation degree requires:

  • A professional childcare qualification at Level 3 or above.
  • Two years' post-qualifying experience working in a childcare setting.
  • Employment in a healthcare setting while undertaking the course.

There are several routes that can lead to acceptance on to the foundation degree in healthcare play specialism:

Progression from nursery nursing. Many hospital play specialists have a nursery nursing background. Entry to nursery nursing usually requires some GCSE's (A*-C), particularly in English and maths. The Diploma in society, health and development may be relevant for this area of work.

Some employers offer Apprenticeships in children's care, learning and development that lead to nursery nursing.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work, Careers Wales; and for Northern Ireland contact

Progression from hospital play assistants. To become a hospital play specialist, applicants need a qualification such as an NVQ Level 3 in children's care, learning and development, CACHE Level 3 Diploma in child care and education or BTEC National Diploma in children's care, learning and development. With experience, hospital play assistants can apply for work and training as a hospital play specialist.

Transfer from other related work. It is possible to enter work and training as a hospital play specialist after experience in working with children in occupations such as nursing, social work, teaching, art therapy, drama therapy, music therapy or occupational therapy.

To work with children, applicants have to undergo checks through the Criminal Records Bureau and register with the Independent Safeguarding Authority.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Foundation degree courses in healthcare play specialism are, subject to validation, to be offered from autumn 2010. Initially, courses are likely to be piloted by Bolton Community College and Stanmore Adult College before being offered at other centres. The courses have both practical and academic elements. They are workplace based, with one day a week in college. Courses will last two years and lead to registration with The Hospital Play Staff Education Trust and a licence to practice.

At present all registered hospital play specialists are invited to re-register every five years. To do so, they must have completed within those five years:

Atotal of at least 400 hours practice, and a minimum of five days or 30 hours of relevant learning activity.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A hospital play specialist should:

  • Have patience, tolerance, tact and sensitivity.
  • Be a good listener.
  • Have a warm and caring personality.
  • Be able to communicate with children.
  • Have the ability to motivate children who are shy or unhappy.
  • Be energetic, enthusiastic and have a sense of fun.
  • Have some medical knowledge for understanding the effects of medical conditions and for answering children's questions about these.
  • Be resourceful to adapt activities to meet individual needs and abilities.
  • Be able to work well alone and in a team.
  • Be able to build good relationships with parents and carers as well as with children.
  • Have organisational skills.
  • Have the ability to cope emotionally with difficult situations.

Your Long Term Prospects

With further experience and training, a hospital play specialist may become a team leader, a team manager, a senior hospital play specialist or a play co-ordinator.

They may also move into other areas of childcare or into play therapy.

Get Further Information

Hospital Play Staff Education Trust (HPSET),
PO Box 1153, Postwick, Norwich NR13 5WQ
Tel: 01603 700353

National Association of Hospital Play Staff (NAHPS)

NHS Careers,
PO Box 2311,
Bristol BS2 2ZX
Tel: 0345 60 60 655

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