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Nurses encouraged to cuddle dying children

Tuesday 19th July 2016
NICE is urging doctors and nurses to not be afraid of cuddling sick children. Image: xiefel via iStock
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Nurses, doctors and other medical professionals shouldn't be afraid of offering a comforting cuddle to a sick or dying child while they are receiving hospital care, new guidance states.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has published new advice for nurses treating seriously ill children, which outlines how massages, hand holding and hugs can help their young patients to feel better at such a difficult time.

Here, we take a look at why this new guidance has been introduced, alongside discussing how hugs may have healing powers.

New NICE guidance on physical contact

Medics are often wary of physical contact with child patients, particularly in the wake of a number of high-profile child abuse scandals hitting the headlines over the past few years.

As a result, NICE has updated its guidance on physical contact with young patients in order to make sure that children are being provided with the comfort they need while they are ill or dying and away from their parents.

Dr Emily Harrop, interim chair of the NICE guideline committee, commented: "People are right to put in certain boundaries, but there are time in care where hugging a child is very helpful and compassion can make a big difference. 99.9 per cent of people who work with children have the best of intentions and it is just a tiny number who abuse that trust."

The new guidance also offers nurses advice on how they can provide support to young patients' families throughout this challenging time, such as by offering them locks of their children's hair or hand or footprints for them to keep.

In addition, NICE recommends that children nearing the end of their life should be moved to a hospice or be able to return to their home when doctors have ruled there is nothing more that can be done for them.

Statistics show that over 40,000 children in the UK are currently living with an incurable condition.

Dr Harrop added: "To lose a child is a tragic, unimaginable, life-changing event. However, the way the death is handled by the professionals around a family can make an enormous difference."

How hugs can be good for health

There is evidence from various studies to suggest that hugs can be beneficial for health and wellbeing, as close physical contact can trigger the release of the hormone oxytocin, which can help to calm and relax the person receiving the hug.

What's more, a study carried out last year at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania led to the discovery that being hugged not only helped people to feel better supported when they were ill, but it also assisted in boosting their immune systems.

This was because they were exposed to a greater range of bacteria from close contact with other people, meaning they were less likely to catch colds and other infections as a result.

NICE also suggested that nurses should offer massages to ill children, as these are another way to help them to feel more relaxed and comfortable in their final days, with previous research showing that they can help to lower anxiety and stress levels, reduce headaches and help people to sleep better at night.

Written by James Puckle

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