Case study

Head of play services — Susan Fairclough

After starting out as a health play specialist, Susan has progressed to the role of Head of Play Services (Therapeutic and Specialised Play Service Manager). Find out about her experiences managing a busy play service team

How did you get your job?

I worked as a health play specialist in the Royal Manchester Children's Hospital in oncology, haematology and bone marrow transplantation for seven years, before moving into the role of Head of Play Services (Therapeutic and Specialised Play Service Manager).

What's a typical working day like?

All health play specialists (Band 5) and play leaders (Band 4) work for therapeutic and specialised play and are linked to wards and departments. However, I can move them around for service needs and staff development. We work with inpatients, outpatients and those who are referred to us before their admission or an appointment.

I start the day by checking my phone for important messages. As line manager I need to check staff on site and any urgent needs. I then check patient referrals that come from GPs, consultants/doctors, nurse and disability nurse specialists, psychologists, pre-admissions nurses, theatre schedulers, anaesthetists, surgeons and therapy staff and I respond to these. I allocate the relevant health play specialist to work with the patient and inform all the relevant staff. I then open my inbox of emails (I also have a referral inbox) and respond to as many as possible. I'm available for the on-call (back-up) bleep throughout the day in case a patient requires assistance when our health play specialists are already engaged with other patients.

I undertake all line managerial work including HR, finance, wages, e-rostering and recruitment. I also attend meetings and provide teaching/training sessions. From 11.30am to 12.30pm daily I host a one-to-one open office session, which helps with the time management of patients, families, staff, diary duties, meetings, training, appraisals, teaching and 'walking manager' (going to wards and departments) sessions.

Throughout a typical working day I also organise events and projects, including our entertainers, musicians (music for health), pets as therapy dogs and family information sessions.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The smiles and feedback from patients, families and staff says it all.

What are the challenges?

Service cover is the main challenge. I know we could do even more with additional staff and more hours of the service covered.

In what way is your degree relevant?

The knowledge and skills I gained through my studies assist me in my day-to-day role. Doing a degree also challenged me to further achieve.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

I've now got a lot of corporate responsibilities within the NHS trust, as well as accountability and responsibility for staff, services and provisions. My aim is to keep improving services and learn new ideas myself. In the future I would like to work even closer with other heads of hospital play services.

What are your tips for anyone wanting to become a health play specialist?

  • Be prepared to learn, develop and keep learning and developing.
  • You need to enjoy working with people - children, young people, families and staff. You need to be an excellent communicator and listener, enthusiastic, caring and able to pick up on body language.
  • Look out for job adverts and contact healthcare HR departments in hospitals and play service managers to find out about opportunities.