A STUDY on the effect of therapy dogs on the wards of a Southampton hospital has shown "overwhelming" support from staff, patients and families for a nationwide rollout.

Two hundred staff and parents were surveyed across a 12-month period at Southampton Children’s Hospital, with results revealing that the presence of dogs reduced anxiety in young patients when waiting for tests, investigations and examinations.

Children who were previously nervous around dogs reported less fear as a result of the visits and no concerns were raised in relation to the presence, cleanliness and behaviour of the dogs.

“While we had received constant positive anecdotal feedback from patients, families and staff, to really establish AAI in the healthcare setting we needed to strengthen the evidence behind it,” said Lyndsey Uglow, lead therapy dog handler at Southampton Children's Hospital.

"The results of this survey have confirmed that the initiation of a formal therapy dog service in an acute UK children’s hospital environment has been overwhelmingly positive and supported by patients, parents and staff.”

She added: “To ensure the safe development of a therapy dog service, handlers need to follow a well-researched and considered protocol to ensure safety for all concerned, including the dogs, but it can be done and there is a growing evidence base for it.

"We understand a therapy dog visit would not be appropriate for every type of patient however, where it is possible, the results of this study show that patients, staff and visitors enjoy the benefit of the human-animal bond when they see one of our dogs on the wards.”

The research, published in the British Journal of Nursing, found there was a 100 per cent recommendation that similar animal assisted intervention (AAI) services should be supported across the UK.

The project was initiated and led by Lyndsey and fellow Pets as Therapy handlers Karen Ramsay, Hannah Ramsay and Liz Wilkinson with their therapy dogs Leo, Jessie, Milo, Hattie, Quinn and Archie

This team of therapy dogs has also been used to support anxious paediatric patients prior to surgery with positive results and there are plans to launch a further study focusing on paediatric intensive care.