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Animals in health care settings – can dogs really speed up recovery time?


Earlier this week, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) released a protocol that aims to encourage the idea of allowing dogs to support people who might benefit from it in health care settings such as hospitals.

The idea behind the ‘Working with dogs in health care settings’ protocol is that, according to a recent RCN survey, 90% of nurses said they believed that patients with mental health problems could benefit from contact with animals. 60% also said that animal contact could speed up a patient’s recovery. With such high percentages of professionals supporting the idea of dogs in health care settings, we can understand why the RCN are putting the idea forward!

Which dogs would be able to visit health care settings?

The two main types of dogs recommended are:

  • Assistance dogs – Trained to a high standard in order to support their owners with everyday tasks, these dogs are unlikely to cause disruptions in health care settings and are familiar with being in different environments.
  • Animal Assisted Intervention Dogs (AAI) – AAI dogs are usually handled by their owner and brought into health care settings to visit individuals or groups of people to allow people to stroke or interact with them.

How will risks be managed?

The thought of dogs in health care settings, for some people might be a worrying thought. However, guidelines will help keep the environment as safe as possible for everyone. Examples include:

  • Preventing infection – All staff would need to follow precautionary guidelines before allowing a dog on the premises.
  • Allergy – Seeing as dog allergies are not uncommon, risk assessments or areas and patients will be carried out to reduce the risk of dogs coming into contact with people with allergies.
  • The dogs would be on a lead and wearing an ID tag and recognised jacket at all times so that everyone in the building will be aware that it is an assistance dog.
  • Consideration will be given to those with cultural or religious beliefs and those frightened of dogs or not wishing to interact with them.

To find out more about working with dogs in health care settings, visit the Royal College of Nursing’s website to take a look at the full prospectus.

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