We have worked with Julie Mather, who manages the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) at the Sheffield Children’s Hospital, to compile a list of tips for coping with blood tests.
Book a quiet room to wait in. Do this as soon as you have a date for the blood test, by contacting PALS or the Outpatient Play Team.
Ask in advance whether it is possible to have a thumb prick test, if you think your child would cope better with this. It may not be – not all blood tests can be done in this way – but if it is, you could practise at home by putting Vaseline on your child’s thumb and squeezing it to get them used to the sensation.
Ask whether the procedure could be done in Medical Day Care. Medical Day Care can provide sedation (e.g. gas and air), and their staff are good at distracting and reassuring. Children can only be referred to Medical Day Care by a consultant, or by staff working in Outpatients if it proves difficult to get bloods there. GPs cannot refer to Medical Day Care.
Explain to your child what will happen, and answer their questions honestly. You could watch a video about blood tests together, or ask PALS or the Outpatient Play Team to post a booklet about blood tests out to you. The play specialists also have some magnetic boards with pictorial images that can be adapted and used on the day.
Give your child a big drink an hour or so before the blood test, as the blood will be less thick and flow better. Get them to move around if it’s an early morning test, as the movement helps to pump the blood around the body more efficiently.
Ask staff about numbing options as soon as you arrive. Emla numbing cream can take up to 45 minutes to work. Staff can also use a numbing spray, which takes a little less time to work.
Stay calm, don’t rush your child, and offer them a big treat after the procedure.
Consider asking for psychology input if your child has a needle phobia. If your child is under a consultant at the hospital, the consultant or your GP can refer them to the Paediatric Psychology Department at the Sheffield Children’s Hospital. Your child would first be seen in an assessment clinic to agree a way forward. Psychological support could include counselling sessions or attendance at a procedural anxiety group. There is currently a six-month wait for psychology appointments.