Rockinghorse funds vital role at the Royal Alex

Last year, Rockinghorse appointed a paediatric clinical psychologist for the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital in...

Dr Alice Emond is the Rockinghorse Clinical Psychologist at the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital in Brighton.

Last year, Rockinghorse appointed a paediatric clinical psychologist for the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital in Brighton.

Dr Alice Emond joined the team in July 2018 and has celebrated her first year in post as the Rockinghorse Clinical Psychologist. We funded the day care oncology post to provide a specialist support service for children, young people and their families, during their treatment for cancer.

Here at Rockinghorse, we work with local hospitals in Sussex, and are best known as the official fundraising arm of the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital (the Alex). In addition to this, we support children’s respite centres and other paediatric health services with a focus on improving children’s emotional and physical well-being.

All of our projects and appeals are funded in response to needs identified by medical care professionals who work directly with sick and disadvantaged babies, children and young people. Together, we seek to address the medical and social needs of children, and these projects are founded as a result of assessments and consultations with children supported by our beneficiary partners.

The Rockinghorse Clinical Psychologist role was established following a detailed consultation with the oncology medical team at the Alex. They felt there was a real need for the role in order to support children and their families, who are facing extensive treatment for cancer.

Dr Alice Emond is specially trained to help children of all ages (from 0-19) with their mental health and wellbeing. Her role is extremely important in supporting these young patients and their families to cope with the physical health condition and treatment. Through this service, young patients and their families are also better prepared for upcoming surgeries and other forms of treatment.

We spoke to Alice and asked her to reflect on her first year in post. Here she explains more about how her role is making a real difference…

Rockinghorse is the official fundraising arm of the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital in Brighton.

Tell us more about your role…

As the clinical psychologist in the paediatric oncology team, my role is very varied which is one of the things I really like about the post. I provide psychology support to children and young people with a diagnosis of cancer who are under the care of the Alex, as well as their family members.

I offer psychological assessment and therapy to children and families at all stages of their cancer journey. This begins at diagnosis, throughout their treatment and post-treatment, to support them with readjusting and reintegrating back into their lives outside hospital.

Examples of my work include; supporting children and their families with coming to terms with and finding ways to cope with the diagnosis and treatment; helping children prepare for and cope with treatment procedures; supporting children with emotional and behavioural difficulties and helping families manage separation from ‘normal’ life and promoting that adjustment.

A diagnosis of cancer can have a significant impact on the whole family. Helping families understand and working through the challenges together is so important in promoting resilience during their journey. Most children and families adjust well and find positive ways of coping, but some experience significant psychological distress, which needs professional psychological support using evidence-based interventions.

I also have an important role working alongside the multidisciplinary paediatric oncology team to raise awareness of the psychosocial needs of patients and families. This includes understanding the impact of emotional and behavioural difficulties on medical care (and visa versa) and working closely with colleagues from the play specialist and education teams, social workers and other charities to support families’ holistic needs.

The Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital provides specialist oncology services.

Why is it so important to provide clinical psychology in paediatric care?

It is well recognised that physical health difficulties can significantly impact on psychological wellbeing. Children who have a physical health problem are more likely to successfully manage the challenges presented by their medical condition, if their health care addresses both their physical and psychological well-being (source: Jacobs, Titman & Edwards, Bridging psychological and physical health care. The Psychologist, 2012).

This is furthermore highlighted by the following: Attention to the mental health of the child, young person and their family should be an integral part of the children’s service, and not an afterthought (source: National Service Framework for Children, Department of Health, 2004).

By integrating clinical psychologists into paediatric care, we can ensure that the emotional wellbeing of children and families are both assessed and addressed. Psychology provision in paediatric oncology, encourages psychological thinking within health care teams.

It also makes psychological services more accessible and acceptable to children and families – which is important when families may be ambivalent about the need for or social acceptability of receiving psychological help (source: Jacobs, Titman & Edwards, Bridging psychological and physical health care. The Psychologist, 2012).

Dr Alice Emond’s role supports children and their families, who are facing extensive treatment for cancer.

How has your post been having an impact on patients and their families?

The psychology service funded by Rockinghorse has already shown to be of great benefit to patients and families in the oncology service. Since starting in post, I have been inundated with referrals for psychological support both from the medical team and families themselves. The number of families accessing psychological support is continuing to increase, highlighting the clinical need and the positive impact of the psychology service.

Parents and staff at the Alex have positively commented on the improvement in holistic care for patients and families, and the support it provides for their psychological needs…

“I was able to talk to someone if I was anxious. They helped me understand why I was feeling worried. Talking to someone helped me realise that what I was feeling, was normal. They helped me work through many issues and made me feel more confident.” (Teenage patient).

It’s great to see that patients and families are now confident to self-refer themselves at different points in their cancer journey. To me, this shows that the service is viewed as accessible and acceptable, and it allows me to support families with both responsive and preventative work in order to promote coping and resilience.

An additional third day of funding for my post was provided by Rockinghorse in March this year (2019). It has made a significant impact on the role, as it has allowed me time to meet all families, both after diagnosis and at the end of treatment. I can now help to develop preventative holistic wellbeing plans with the wider team to anticipate and reduce psychological distress in recovery from cancer.

The psychological interventions that I have provided have reduced patients psychological distress, increased their coping and confidence, as well as improved their cooperation with procedures and adherence to medication.

“Having Alice join the team as Rockinghorse Clinical Psychologist has meant that we have dedicated support from someone who has the tools to help us.” (Parent)

Some of the families I’ve worked with in the past 12 months have provided positive feedback on the psychology provision. They’ve said…

“My daughter was seen as an emergency when admitted with acute anxiety and eating issues. Luckily for my daughter it was a day the service was available. It was invaluable support to us that day.” (Parent).

“My daughter and myself have benefitted greatly from this service. The sudden diagnosis and health issues are never something you would expect to happen to you. We really appreciate all the support we have been given.” (Parent)

“It’s been a long and challenging treatment for my son, which has meant that we are both in need of emotional support. Ensuring my child is equipped with the right tools to help navigate the roller coaster of emotions he’s experiencing, is crucial. Having Alice join the team as Rockinghorse Clinical Psychologist has meant that we have dedicated support from someone who has the tools to help us.” (Parent)

The psychology service is also valued by the wider medical team. They have commented on the impact it has made to families…

“Several patients have had significant benefit in terms of helping them cope with procedural related anxiety. With the introduction of personalised detailed procedure plans, there has been a noticeable reduction in their distress around procedures such as injections and anaesthetics. We have also been offering end of treatment appointments to help parents and patients process their experience, which has helped with a smoother re-integration into school.” (Medical consultant in paediatric oncology)

“Since having a psychologist within the team, it has made a big impact for the patients, families and staff. We now have an established monthly multi-professional psychosocial meeting, which offers a great platform to discuss patients in more depth regarding their holistic needs. Alice has been actively involved in developing an onsite CLIC Sargent clinic, which is providing invaluable support for families and strengthening the links between the Alex and Royal Marsden Hospital (one of the main primary treatment centres for our patients).” (Clinical Nurse Specialist in paediatric oncology)

The Blencowe Family Rooms funded by Rockinghorse, are situated within the Oncology Day Care Ward.

Earlier this year, Rockinghorse funded the new parents’ lounge and patients’ playroom in the Oncology Ward at the Alex. How have the rooms been having an impact?

The Blencowe Family Rooms have already had a very positive impact on the experience of patients and their families visiting oncology day care. The well-designed and resourced playroom offers a relaxed and fun environment for children of all ages. It is so important to have normal play opportunities, and to interact with each other on their frequent visits to the ward.

Patients and their siblings have said how much they look forward to spending time in the new playroom whenever they visit the ward. Parents have commented how much they appreciate having their own room, which is modern and comfortable. It also provides a calm space to spend time with their families away from the main busy ward.

Rockinghorse also provides play equipment and activities for Oncology patients.

Do you have any other first-hand experience of how Rockinghorse funding is contributing to, and improving, the services provided at the Alex?

Rockinghorse provides ongoing funding for a range of invaluable projects and services at the Alex. These have been of great benefit to oncology patients and hospital staff. Young people under the care of oncology have benefitted from a yoga group and art therapy group. This has supported them with building physical strength, managing stress, anxiety and emotional expression.

Rockinghorse also provides funding for play equipment, which helps to resource the oncology day care playroom, where so many of our children spend a lot of time. The Mind Clinic has also been funded by Rockinghorse. This service provides counselling to all doctors, nurses and non-clinical staff. It is a hugely important addition, helping to support staff wellbeing. Rockinghorse also provides tickets for local leisure activities, which helps our families enjoy life outside the hospital.

Your support will help us to further fund the Rockinghorse Clinical Psychologist role at the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital.

Supporting Rockinghorse

As a fundraising charity, we engage with local businesses, schools, community groups, individuals, and trusts to generate support. Rockinghorse receives no local or central government funding and relies on the generous support of the general public.

It is with our sincere thanks to our friends at Morgan Sindall, who have so very kindly awarded us with funding towards the first year of the Rockinghorse Clinical Psychologist post.

We are continuously fundraising to ensure additional services like this remain in place at the Alex. Please do continue to support our work as we strive to make life better for sick and disadvantaged children in Sussex. To read our full list of projects, please click here.

If you would like to donate towards year two of the Rockinghorse Clinical Psychologist post, we’d love to hear from you. Please click here to make a donation via our secure Rockinghorse JustGiving page, or alternatively, you can call us on 01273 330044 or email