Written by Dr. Anneli Haake www.annelihaake.com

How many children are in hospital in the UK, and what are the effects of hospitalisation in children? Can music help children in hospitals, and if so – how?


20% of children in the UK attend accident and emergency departments at some point in their lives. 700,000 children have at least one overnight stay, and 300,000 attend for day surgery (University of Salford 2012). There is recent evidence that the number of hospital stays for children are on the rise in the UK, something which may have an increasingly negative impact on children given the effects of hospitalisation in children.

It has been suggested that perhaps as many as 60% of children are negatively affected when they are in hospitals (Roberts 2010), where some of the effects seen have been separation anxiety, fear of hospitals and doctors, nightmares and aggression towards authority. While many of these effects have been noted to disappear after 2 weeks, some children have shown signs of post-traumatic stress as well as a decrease in social and intellectual functioning, and even immunological incompetence (Kain et al 1999). Children in hospital are particularly vulnerable, not only because they are ill or because they are developing human beings, but also – importantly – because of their lack of control over what is happening to them in the hospital environment (Coyne & Livesley 2010). It is the lack of control that becomes particularly significant when we talk about the positive effects of music on children in hospitals.


With regard to music in paediatric health settings, there are positive indications. Music can help to enhance cognitive abilities among children, facilitate verbal and nonverbal communication, and influence physiology. The emotional qualities of music can also reduce the effects of trauma and facilitate coping strategies for difficult environments (Naylor et al 2011). Music can help children and their families to focus attention on something else external to the illness, and therefore function as a distraction and enhancement of relaxation (Preti & Welch 2004 & 2011; Preti & Schubert 2011). Music can help to verbalise experiences that help children to cope better, and in this way act as a kind of “social support”. Music can also help to turn the hospital environment into something less threatening, as it creates a psychosocial space where interaction can take place without the fear and anxiety related to diagnosis and illness (Preti & Welch 2011).


Furthermore, staff have been found to state that listening to live music helped them to relax, feel happier and more positive (Moss, Nolan & O’Neill 2007), and thus music in hospitals can be understood as something that fosters social interaction between hospitalised children, their caregivers and the hospital staff, and in a wider sense nurtures “a sense of individual, group and institutional well-being” (Preti & Welch 2011:7).



Coyne, I., & Livesley, J. (2010). Introduction to the Core Principles in Children’s Nursing, in: Coyne, I & Neill, F & Timmins, F (eds.), Clinical Skills in Children’s Nursing, 1 edition, Oxford University Press, Oxford, U.K., pp.7-32.

Kain, Z. V., Wang, S-M., Mayes, L. C., Caramico, L. A., & Hofstadter, M. B. (1999). Distress during the induction of anesthesia and postoperative behavioral outcomes. Anesthesia and Analgesia, 88, 1042-1047.

Moss, H., Nolan, E., O’Neill, D. (2007). A Cure for the Soul? The Benefit of Live Music in the General Hospital. Irish Medical Journal, 100(10), 636-638.

Naylor, K. T., Kingsnorth, S., Lamont, A., McKeever, P., & Macarthur, C. (2011). The effectiveness of music in pediatric health care: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2011, Article ID 464759, 18 pages

Preti, C., & Schubert, E. (2011). Sonification of Emotions II: Live music in a pediatric hospital. Paper presented at The 17th International Conference on Auditory Display, June 20-24, Budapest, Hungary

Preti, C., & Welch, G.F. (2004). Music in a hospital setting: A multifaceted experience. British Journal of Music Education, 21:3, pp 329-345

Roberts, C.A. (2010). Unaccompanied hospitalized children: A review of the literature and incidence study. Journal of Pediatric Nursing, 25(6), 470–476

University of Salford, (2012). Medical Notes Project at the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital Outcomes for children, families, musicians and hospital staff. Available at:http://www.salford.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/152174/medical-notes.pdf, accessed 25 August, 2013.