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NHS hospital services

Children in hospital

Children can find going to hospital a daunting experience. This is partly to do with their treatment but also because the hospital is a new and strange environment, full of new sights, smells, noises and people. If possible, talk to your child before leaving for hospital and explain what they should expect.

Choosing a hospital

NHS Choices will help you to make your choice. You can select from a wide range of different hospitals and compare them according to the criteria that matter most to you, such as car parking or waiting times. Use the Services near you facility to find your nearest hospital.

When you find the details of hospitals in your area, you can read what other hospital users have said about them.You can use the 'Leave Review' option to record your own opinions about the treatment you received in a hospital. 

Stay with your child as much as you can

Hospital staff have found that children often adapt better to a hospital if their parents stay with them for as long as possible. Reassure your child that you will be staying by their side, and let them know that the hospital is a safe place to be. However, if you have to leave the hospital at any time, inform your child how long you will be gone for, and make sure that you are back on time.

If you are able to stay with your child overnight, the hospital may arrange for an extra bed in your child's room or ward. 

Keep to a routine

Keeping a routine can help your child feel more at home so it may help if, for example, you stick to your child’s usual bedtime routine or bring their favourite toy or comforter. 

Take time for yourself

While it is important to reassure children about their stay in hospital, it is just as important to look after yourself. You will be better able to care for your child and give support if you are coping well yourself.

Remember that it is fine to take breaks. Go for a walk, or get a cup of tea or coffee. Talk things through with your partner, friends, or family; they will be able to give support and talking can be a great stress reliever. 

Consent to treatment

Before a doctor, nurse or therapist can examine or treat your child, they must have consent or agreement. As a parent, you will make your decisions based on what you feel is in your child’s best interests. It is, however, advisable to involve children as much as possible in these decisions. This will give them a sense of control and they are more likely to respond positively to their treatment.

As a rule, you are entitled to agree to treatment on behalf of a child up to the age of 18 for whom you have parental responsibility. Once children reach 16, they can give consent independently, just like adults. Children under 16 may still be able to give consent for themselves, if they are mature enough to understand fully what is involved.

For more information on consent, download the Department of Health’s guidance Consent: a guide for parents (PDF, 50kb).  

What to ask

To make an informed decision you and your child should ask as much about the treatment as possible.

Keep a notebook to write down any questions, in case you cannot speak to your doctor straight away.

If the person you're asking can't answer your questions, ask them to find out or arrange for someone else to talk to you about your concerns.

Use these questions as a guide.

  • What will the treatment involve?
  • How will the treatment improve my child’s health?
  • What are the benefits of this rather than other treatments (if there are any)?
  • How good are the chances of success?
  • Are there any alternatives?
  • What are the risks, if any, and how serious could they be?
  • What happens if my child doesn’t have treatment?   

Read our full guidance about What to ask the doctor.


Page last reviewed: 12/09/2014

Next review due: 12/09/2016

Facts - in a typical year

  • Up to half of infants under 12 months and one quarter of older children will attend A&E
  • One in 11 children will be referred to a hospital outpatient clinic
  • One in 10 to 15 children will be admitted to hospital
  • One in 1,000 children will require intensive care
  • One in 10 babies born have to be admitted to a neonatal unit. Of those, about 2% will need intensive care


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Next review due: 09/07/2017

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Next review due: 22/10/2016