Nursing Times Award Winner

Health Warning - Smiling is infectious

I don’t know about you, but when I’m ill or in pain I’m not always easy to be around. Not being able to do the things I want to do can leave me frustrated.

Illness, pain and anxiety about our own health or the health of those we love can take the fun out of life. We think about our pain. We worry about what’s wrong with us, whether we’ll get better and what effect our medical conditions will have on our lives. And the worry of course makes things worse. The world shrinks but the pain gets bigger – or at least it seems to.

So anything that can distract our thoughts, change our mindset and bring some colour back into our lives makes an enormous difference. It might be a smile from a stranger on the bus, a kindly touch from a friend or a favourite meal cooked by a loved one. It might be watching the birds on the feeder in the morning - or it might be the Year Three children from St Joseph’s RC primary school in Manchester.

OK, I wasn’t a patient on the day they came to sing at the outpatients department at Manchester Royal Infirmary last week but I was able to see the effect the children had on the visitors and on the staff around me.

Seeing the children walk through the doors and take their places to sing was like watching a smile slowly spreading across the whole room. You could feel the energy lift all around.

Actually there were 30 smiles –and that was just the children! As they started their school song under the guidance of headteacher Mrs Porter and class teacher Mrs Nathaniel the smiles caught like a Mexican wave - from patients to relatives, nurses to receptionists, WRVS ladies to porters passing through . One nurse even took a song sheet and joined in.

The singing was good. The songs were imaginative and the performances excellent. But it was the children themselves and their smiles that were the real gift. These were children that knew how to have fun and knew how to share that with others.

But, according to Mrs Porter, it’s not just the patients and staff who benefit .

“The children love to see the reaction they get and how it cheers people up, “ she said.

“They like to see there’s a bit of an audience. It’s a different sort of audience with people coming and going all the time. And they get to see what it’s like and how busy the nurses are.

“Some of the people who are there waiting are obviously quite anxious. But then you see them start to smile. These children know they are doing a really important job. No one else is going to do it so it’s up to us to do what we can.”

Hospitals are big institutions where staff carry huge responsibilities. Sometimes the inevitable pressures and procedures mean that they can lack the human touch which is so important in the healing process. Groups like St Joseph’s (and St Chrysostoms’s Church of England primary school who visited the Manchester Children’s Hospital the previous week) are a reminder that despite everything life throws at us there can still be joyful moments and something to smile about.

The St Joseph’s school song – sung with characteristic enthusiasm - probably puts it best

“We are the children from St Joseph’s School

We take a pride in the things that we do

Learning together and having fun

Who’s for a good day ? EVERYONE”


Jill Fraser

Jill Fraser

Inspire others: Submit your idea