CUH Logo

Mobile menu open

Team effort makes children’s PE lessons a hospital first

Children undergoing cancer treatment at Addenbrooke’s are accessing tailored PE lessons - thought to be the first of their kind in the country - thanks to a pioneering initiative from the hospital school.

Pilgrim Pathways School, which provides education for children and young people with complex mental and physical health needs during their hospital stay, is providing expertise and funding to help put PE on the hospital’s school curriculum, working alongside other key partners.

WATCH: Patient Danilo and mum Emma talk about the benefits of PE lessons


Video transcript


Danilo fell ill in October

and was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in May.

Just gets him up and out

of bed, they get so used to sitting inside.

And it’s just so good for their mental health.

I would say it brightens up your day a bit, you do enjoy it.

So yeah, it just gets him outside in the fresh air and it's great.

It's great doing it.

We do basketball.

There's some facilities here.

Basketball nets obviously, shooting, bouncing,

we've done bowling.

We've done our mini sports day, which entails

throwing and knocking things down, we’ve done boxing,

Pretty much any sport that a hospital space allows we do.

The aim is for every child that comes to the hospital to have access to PE.

And then with a look forward to the children's Hospital

where we'll have more children coming from around the region.

We're hoping that everyone will have access to PE,

whether they're at home or in the hospital.

I could keep you all day talking about the benefits of physical activity

in children, but specifically when you're in hospital, you don't move

as much as when you're not in hospital, you're confined to a small bed space.

You're often attached to drips, lines, drains.

Quite a lot of time you'll be either really sore, you'll be tired.

So the motivation levels to move are really low.

Yeah, I definitely think physical activity

makes a difference to a child’s recovery.

I think even in mainstream for all people, physical activity

is massive for mental health, obviously physical health.

And so I think the effects will be clear for sure.

Also involved are KICK, a local charity working with local schools and organisations to deliver tailored sporting programmes, Addenbrooke’s-based Brainbow, the UK's first rehabilitation service for children with brain tumours, and Addenbrooke’s Paediatric Inpatient Physiotherapy Team.

Inpatient Paeds Physio Team
Addenbrooke’s inpatient paediatric physiotherapy team, L to R are Jonny Littlewood, Helen Starace, Sarah Cawood, Stephanie Davies, Georgia Loft, Colin Hamilton

The benefits of physical activity is well documented. For children undergoing treatment for cancer, and/or requiring long hospital stays, meeting the recommended levels of physical activity can be a challenge for a number of reasons. By offering PE, the ambition is to ‘normalise physical activity’ within an inpatient setting, which can often become very medicalised, and even scary with drains, tubes and equipment.

The work dovetails with the vision for the new Cambridge Children’s Hospital for the East of England, which will bring mental and physical health services, research and education together for the first time, providing a ‘whole child’ approach to caring.

Becca Knowles, Brainbow’s specialist paediatric physiotherapist
Becca Knowles

Brainbow’s specialist paediatric physiotherapist, Becca Knowles, said: “The challenges of incorporating PE into the curriculum in a hospital school setting results in a missed opportunity for children to optimise their development. There are huge health benefits associated with being physically active; including, but not limited to cardiovascular health, bone health and mental health, in addition to reducing side effects of some treatments, reducing infection risk and even improving treatment outcomes, so it really needs to be a priority.”

Since the introduction of this initiative the response and uptake from patients, parents and staff has been a resounding success. One of my personal highlights has been experiencing the laughter, enjoyment and enthusiasm towards movement and being active.

One child said ‘I hope I get a temperature again next week so I can come back in for PE’. While we of course hope they don’t get a temperature, the sentiment demonstrates the power of normalising movement. We hope that soon PE will be available across all our children’s wards

Becca Knowles
Nadine Gooding-Hébert
Nadine Gooding-Hébert

Pilgrim Pathways School head teacher, Nadine Gooding-Hébert, who is among those championing the new Cambridge Children’s Hospital initiative, said: “As a school we are committed to delivering a broad and balanced curriculum where PE is present. For this reason we were keen to support Becca, the OT, and physio team in their vision for normalising physical activity and enabling the ward teams to feel more confident in supporting it.

When children are staying in hospital, they often feel marginalised from their everyday lives and peer groups. Being able to access a broad and balanced curriculum gives them the chance to re-connect with their 'normal' life.

We hope that the increased space and new facilities at Cambridge Children’s Hospital will enable us to provide further opportunities to young people.

Nadine Gooding-Hébert
Zoe Cross
Zoe Cross

Pilgrim Pathways School and KICK, PE coach, Zoe Cross, said:

I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to deliver national curriculum PE to young people who haven’t had the chance to take part previously.

It’s amazing to see the positive impact 15 minutes of physical activity has on these young people, and witnessing their mood improve and their abilities increase has been a wonderful experience

Zoe Cross

For more information on the children’s hospital (opens in a new tab) to be built near Addenbrooke’s.