Hospital admissions…what to expect

Sometimes, children and young people need to go to hospital for the day, or longer, for monitoring, tests or a procedure such as an operation. The information below should help you get ready and have an idea of what to expect.

Types of hospital admission

Day surgery means that it is not expected that your child will need to stay overnight in the hospital after their surgery.

This means that your child will be admitted to the hospital on the day their surgery is scheduled to take place. The surgery may take place in the morning or in the afternoon. You will have been provided instructions about how to prepare such as fasting. Your child will be admitted to the ward after their surgery is complete. The information below may still be useful to help you prepare.

This type of stay is for a few days or longer. Your child may be admitted for testing or observation, due to illness or injury, or for a surgery or procedure that will require a longer hospital stay or recovery.

Important tip – Following hospital instructions

Make sure you read any information the hospital has provided about your child’s hospital admission such as:

Your child may need to avoid food and/or drinks for a certain amount of time before their procedure. If this is not done their procedure may be delayed or cancelled until they have fasted properly.

Calling to confirm admission
You might be told to call the number provided to confirm there is a bed available.

When you arrive…

The admitting process differs at every hospital but the following are some things you can expect to happen when your child has a planned hospital admission.

  • When you arrive at the hospital, you will need to check-in at the Admission Office. You may be asked to confirm some information about yourself and your child or to complete some paperwork. A plastic ID bracelet will be put on your child – this has important information on it and it must always be on their arm or leg.

  • You may have to wait at the Admissions Office until they are ready for your child on the ward. A member of the ward staff might come to collect you or you might be told to go to the ward yourself.
  • On the ward you’ll be welcomed by one of the nurses. They will show your child to their bed, where to put your personal items and should show you the rest of the ward and where all the important facilities are .

  • Once you’re settled in, the nurse will ask a few questions about your child and confirm that all the information they have is correct. They might check your child’s weight and height, temperature, and blood pressure and ask questions about how they are feeling. They might have to do other tests as well. This can be a good time to ask questions and share important information about your child’s needs and preferences.

  • Make sure to tell the nurse if your child needs additional supports or is very scared of procedures and ask what supports are available

Daily activities on the ward…

There are lots of different types of hospital ward, each specializing in different type of medicine or surgery, or caring for children of certain ages, but what to expect from day to day is quite similar for each ward (except for intensive care units such as NICU and PICU).

The day usually starts with the nurse handover when the night shift hands over care to the day shift. They will pass on any information about your child’s care to the next nursing shift.

During “rounds” doctors visit each patient to check on progress and to make decisions about their care. The exact time may vary but the nurses will tell you when it happens on your ward.

This is a good time to ask questions and share concerns. You should write down your questions as it is easy to forget when the doctor arrives.

Breakfast is usually from about 8-9am, lunch about 12- 1pm and dinner 4-5pm – It will be different for each hospital or ward. Make sure you have told your nurse if your child has any food sensitivities or needs special food. If your child misses a meal or gets hungry between meals tell a nurse and they will try and get them a snack. The doctor might give special instructions for what your child can and can’t eat.

Ask your nurse if you are allowed give your child other snacks or drinks.

It is different between wards and hospitals, but parents usually have to provide food for themselves. Some wards might have a parent kitchen with tea, coffee, toast etc – make sure you ask what is available for parents.

Daily care is provided by the nursing team and includes things like  medication, changing dressings and monitoring your child. You may be asked to help with some things such as bathing your child, encouraging them to start moving about or supporting them during procedures. Your child might also receive care from other members of the team to help in their recovery and treatment.

Depending on why your child is in hospital they may need various tests, scans or be scheduled for a procedure such as surgery. Make sure to read our information about how to prepare and support your child during tests and procedures.

Depending on your child’s hospital, reason for being in hospital and length of stay, some of the following supports/activities may be available:

Play specialists
Hospital school
Play volunteers
Music therapy

Ask a member of your child’s team what is available for your child and how to access supports.

Who you might meet

Depending on your child’s reason for being in hospital, you may meet many different members of staff. It can be difficult to remember
them all and understand who does what! The lists below explain the staff who will probably be involved in your child’s daily care
and treatment and other members of staff you may meet.

Tip: Keep notes on the names and role of the staff who are caring for your child.

  • Doctors/Consultants. There are different types of doctor in a hospital. Your child will have a named consultant but they may also be seen by other consultants, specialists, or junior doctors during rounds or procedures.

  • Staff Nurse. A staff nurse is involved in the daily care and monitoring of your child.

  • Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS). A clinical nurse specialist is an advanced practice nurse who can provide advice related to specific conditions or types of treatment.

  • Advanced Nurse Practitioner (ANP). These are nurses who have undertaken a master’s level in clinical practice. ANPs have authority in patient diagnosis and are trusted to independently assess, diagnose, manage and care for patients with complex clinical issues.

  • Ward Managers. Clinical Nurse Manager (CNM). A CNM is the manager of a ward and nursing team, with responsibility for looking after you while you are a patient in the ward. They can also help to deal with any concerns you have while on the ward.

  • Anaesthetist An anaesthetist is a doctor who administers anaesthesia to patients undergoing surgery or other procedures.

  • Health Care Assistant (HCA). HCA’s provide a range of supports for your child including daily care, bathing, feeding and monitoring your child.

You might also meet… Health and Social Care Professionals (HSCP)

Health and Social Care Professions (HSCP) are staff who provide therapeutic, rehabilitative , health and social care and diagnostic services. See below for some of the HSCP professionals you might meet in the hospital.

You will meet a children’s dietitian if your child has a condition where food and special diets are required or are part of their treatment plan.

They work with babies, children and young people who are staying in the hospital to help them recover from an illness or surgery or improve the effects of a condition. The therapist’s main goal is to help these children regain or improve their abilities to do everyday tasks, like getting moving, getting dressed, eating, or playing. The OT might help with things like fine motor skills, sensory difficulties, increasing range of movement and lots more.

Play specialists are part of the multi-disciplinary team and they provide normal and therapeutic play for infants, children and young people both inpatients and outpatients of the hospital. This can include activities like normal play to give children a break from medical procedures and the hospital routine, therapeutic Play  which gives patients an opportunity to explore their hospital experiences and can give daily routine or structure to their day. Other activities include helping to prepare children for surgery, procedures or tests, using special activities to distract children during medical procedures such as using lights, sounds, blowing bubbles and texture toys and using play techniques after surgery or procedures to help children explore their feelings and experiences.

The phlebotomist is responsible for drawing blood from your child or baby for diagnosis or testing.

The physiotherapist works with children in the hospital to restore movement and function, if they have been affected by an injury, illness or disability. Depending on your child’s age and needs, they will use special activities to help with:

  • balance, posture, coordination and gross motor skills
  • joint, muscle or nervous system problems that are causing weakness, pain or movement difficulties
  • physical activity
  • recovery from surgery and injuries to the bones, joints, muscles and ligaments

Psychologists help children and young people with any difficult feelings they may have about their health condition which can include taking medicine, having operations, knowing how to talk to friends about health, or worries about feeling or looking different.

Radiographers use a wide range of techniques to achieve a high-quality diagnostic images which help in the diagnosis  and monitoring of an injury or disease.

Some of the equipment they use includes  X-ray, C.T. scan, ultrasound and MRI.

Medical Social Workers work as part as the hospital’s multi-disciplinary team. Their focus is the emotional and social impact of illness & hospitalisation on the lives of patients and their families.

Speech and language therapists work with children in hospital to assess, diagnose and treat a variety of communication and/or feeding, eating, drinking or swallowing difficulties that they may have due to disability, illness or injury.

Having an operation or procedure – what to expect

Every surgery is different depending on the type of procedure, the age of the child and lots of other reasons. The information below is general information that may help you know some of what you might expect on the day of surgery.

Its important for your child or adolescent to know what to expect if they are having a procedure or operation. See our preparing your child or adolescent section for information about when and how to tell your child they are going to hospital or having a surgery or procedure.

Its important to know what to expect when your child has a procedure or operation. You should have questions ready for your child’s medical team so you know what to expect, how to prepare your child and how to make sure your child’s needs and preferences are part of the preparation. Make sure to ask older children and adolescents what questions they have.

Some questions to ask:

Will my child get pre-med or magic cream before the anaesthetic?
What will they wear to the operating theatre?
Can they walk to the operating theatre if they prefer?
How can you be involved while your child receives their anaesthetic?
How long will the procedure take?

Can you be present when they are coming out of the anaesthetic?

How long will they be in recovery?
Where will you see your child after their procedure – recovery room or ward?

You will be given clear instructions about when to stop your child from eating and drinking. It is important for you and your child to follow these.
If your child is taking any medication you will be told if they are to continue taking their medication on the day of their procedure.

Anaesthetists are specialist doctors who give the anaesthetic medicines and look after the health of your child during surgery and recovery. They are also closely involved with your child’s pain relief after surgery. An anaesthetist will visit you before the procedure to discuss your child’s anaesthetic. This is a good time to talk about any particular worries you or your child may have about the anaesthetic. You may find it helpful to make a list of questions in advance that you want to ask.

Premedication (pre-med) and magic cream Premedication (pre-med) are medicines that are given before an anaesthetic. These can include pain-relief medicines or extra treatment for conditions such as asthma (please bring inhalers if your child has them). The anaesthetist may also discuss giving sedative medicine to help your child relax. These can be helpful if a child is particularly anxious or has been very upset or refused an anaesthetic in the past. Local anaesthetic cream – many children will have ‘magic cream’ put on the back of their hands and covered with a clear dressing. This is a local anaesthetic cream which numbs the skin to minimise any pain when a cannula is placed in your child’s hand or arm (a cannula is a thin plastic tube that allows the doctor or nurse to give medicines into a vein). If the cream cannot be used, a cold spray might be used instead.

You will be given a gown for your child to wear when going to the operating theatre. If your child will be upset about wearing the gown, they may be able to wear their own clothes or pyjamas. They can wear a nappy or pull ups as needed. Your nurse will advise you what underwear can be worn. Your child may be brought to the operating theatre on a trolley or they may be able to walk themselves. Make sure to ask so you and your child know what to expect.

A nurse from the ward will accompany you and your child to the anaesthetic room. Your child will be able to take a toy or comforter. Mobile phones or tablets can be particularly useful to distract children with games or favourite films.

Usually you can stay with your child to support them while they are given the anaesthetic. If you are feeling very anxious yourself, you do not have to do this.

The anaesthetic may be started while your child is lying on a trolley. Smaller children may be anaesthetised sitting on your lap. Staff would then help you to lift them onto the trolley.

The anaesthetist will either use gas from a facemask or tubing, or inject a medicine through a cannula to start the anaesthetic. This will have been discussed with you beforehand, although sometimes the plan may need to change if your child is not able to cooperate.

Watch this video from What, Why Children In Hospital to learn about what happens when your child receives anaesthetic.

When your child is asleep, the anaesthetist will usually place a breathing tube in their airway to help their breathing. The anaesthetist will also insert any more cannulas that are needed and may perform other procedures, as discussed with you beforehand. Your child will then be taken into the operating theatre to have their operation or procedure.

An anaesthetist will stay with your child throughout the procedure and will monitor your child’s blood pressure, pulse, breathing and oxygen levels closely, to help them stay safe and fully anaesthetised.

Now is a good time to go and have something to eat and drink yourself. The staff will have your contact number and will tell you what to expect after your child’s procedure.

After the operation Most children wake up in the recovery room. The anaesthetist is close by and will help if needed. Your child will have a bandage over the cannula in their hand, arm, or foot to keep it safe and out of sight while they wake up.

Each child is cared for by a specialist recovery nurse (or practitioner) who will check that your child is comfortable. They will give extra pain relief and anti-sickness medicines if needed. You will be called to be with your child at an appropriate point during the waking up process.

Some children may be able to go home on the same day as the procedure and some will have to stay in the hospital to recover.

You will be given advice about how to give pain relief or other medicines at home. You should follow this advice carefully.

Some children feel sick or may be sick on the journey home. It is useful to be prepared for this. If you are taking your child home on the day of the operation, you will be given advice as to what to do if you have concerns about your child at home.

If your child is staying on the ward, they will be brought there from the recovery room. They will be monitored by the nursing team and provided with pain relief. Your child may be irritable or out of sorts while they recover.

Supporting your child or teenager in hospital

Understanding your child or teenager’s needs in the hospital

The sections below provides details about how being in hospital might affect babies, children and teenagers, and tips for how to comfort and support them.

This section might help you prepare for questions your child or teenager might have.

Concerns they might have about being in the hospital:

  • Do not like to be separated from their caregiver.
  • Don’t not get their usual stimulation.
  • In an unfamiliar setting.
  • Out of their usual routine.

How can you help while in the hospital?

  • Bring their favourite things from home.
  • Take them out of bed when they are awake if this is allowed by the medical team.
  • Be with me as much as possible.
  • Provide them with stimulations that they can see, hear, and touch.
  • Let them see lots of colours and shapes.
  • Think of ways that they can have a routine “play time”.

Concerns they might have about being in the hospital:

  • They may be afraid of strangers and strange places.
  • They can get very tearful when their caregiver is gone.
  • They can remember people that caused pain during procedures etc.
  • They are not getting enough normal stimulation.
  • Their daily routine is disturbed – try to keep a routine that is similar to home where possible.

How can you help while in the hospital?

  • Find time for them to have safe play opportunities with new things.
  • Play games in their room.
  • Try to be involved in their care as much as possible
  • Bring familiar items such as favourite teddy, blanket or sippie cup.
  • Use play and distraction activities during procedures.

Concerns they might have about being in the hospital:

  • Fear of long separations from caregivers.
  • Medical procedures can be seen as a punishment.
  • Imagining what a procedure is going to be like can be worse than reality; be honest about what to expect.
  • Unknown events can scare them.

How can you help while in the hospital?

  • Give clear explanations using simple language your child can understand.
  • Try to keep to a routine as much as possible
  • Provide preparation for any procedure or “new” thing they will experience.
  • Give them a “job” during procedures (blowing a pinwheel or looking at a book will help them learn coping strategies).

Physical Issues:

  • Puberty can be a source of anxiety (older girls may begin menstruation).
  • Differences between peers can be a source of anxiety and self consciousness.

Concerns they might have about being in the hospital:

  • Concerns about body image
  • Invasions of privacy
  • Being different to their peer group
  • Death and disability
  • Hesitant to reveal fears
  • Loss of body control
  • Losing independence

How can you help while in the hospital?

  • Make sure staff know the child’s likes and dislikes.
  • Allow choices when possible (for example give them choice of IV location).
  • Provide activities and games in order to make the atmosphere more normal.
  • Preparation for procedure is important to reduce anxiety from not knowing what to expect.
  • Use play to explore medical equipment and rehearse upcoming procedures.

Physical Issues:

  • Puberty can be a source of embarrassment and frustration.
  • Sexual development and body image are on the forefront of their minds; be sure to understand and address how procedures and surgeries may impact this.
  • Body image and self-worth can be difficult issues for both males and females.

Concerns they might have about being in the hospital:

  • Concerns about body image or looking different
  • Invasions of privacy
  • Death and disability
  • Hesitant to reveal fears
  • Forced dependence on medical equipment and nursing staff can be frustrating
  • Fear of failure in school
  • Teenagers may hide from confusion and lack of understanding.

How can you help while in the hospital?

  • Respect them as individuals
  • Be sensitive to concerns about body image, privacy and peers
  • Involve teenagers in medical responsibilities and decision-making. Visit for advice on how to involve young people with long term conditions in their healthcare.
  • Find opportunities such as teen rooms to socialise with peers.
  • Preparation will help teenagers to learn about and cope with procedures and diagnosis.

How to comfort and support your child during a test or procedure

The following section provides general advice about how to support your baby or child during a hospital test or procedure. This is general advice and you should always discuss your child’s individual needs with an appropriate member of staff.

One of the most important things you can do is to talk to the medical staff before the procedure (the earlier the better) to share your child’s needs,
concerns and how you would like to support them.

The information in this section is shared with kind permission from Edgehilll University – Children Coming To Hospital

  • Be positive and encouraging and give your child lots of praise.

  • Talk to your child in a calm voice and try to be calm yourself as they may pick up on your feelings.

  • Don’t tell your child “It will be over soon” or that “It will be okay” as this can make your child feel more anxious.

  • Try not to be distracted by what’s going on  – give your child your full attention.

  • Position yourself where your child can see and/or touch your skin. If possible try to use skin-to-skin contact.

  • Help your child choose a comfortable position for the procedure. You may be asked to help keep them still by sitting with them, cuddling or holding them. If you don’t want to hold them, but would like to stay this is ok.

  • If your child cries, let them know it’s ok to feel upset. If they become very upset, you can ask the staff if the procedure can be paused or stopped.

Supporting children of different ages during tests or procedures

  • Hold your baby if possible and gently pat or stroke them
  • Offer your baby or child their dummy if they have one
  • Talk softly, sing or play music
  • Offer a small feed during the procedure or five minutes before
  • Swaddle your baby
  • Give your baby a toy to hold
  • Sit your child on your lap if possible
  • Use pop up books, stories, music, light-up toys, videos, games or bubbles to distract your child.
  • Give your child favourite toys or other comforting things to hold.
  • Sing or talk softly and calmly to your child.
  • Sit your child on your lap if possible
  • Talk about favourite or familiar things or use your child’s imagination to make up a story together
  • Distract your child with a favourite book, game, toy, music or video
  • Encourage your child to take slow deep breaths or blow bubbles with them (if possible – ask staff first)
  • Talk softly and calmly to your child

Useful resources and information

See below for a listing of useful resources to help you prepare your child for hospital and procedures. 


Widgit/Symbol Flashcards and Booklets – Hospital admissions, appointments and procedures

Download Resource Packs provides a section with free symbol/widget based flashcards and booklets to help prepare children with additional needs for hospital appointments, procedures or staying in hospital. Please note this resource is from a UK website.


Preparing a child with a learning disability for hospital – video

Preparing a child with a learning disability for hospital

This video shows interviews with parents of children with a learning disability. The parents share experiences and different ways they prepare their child for going to hospital, the doctor, the dentist or the optometrist. Please note this is resource is from a UK website.


Child friendly videos and information about hospital tests and procedures

This website provides lots of resources about going to hospitals, procedures and equipment. You can use the videos, information sheets and other resources to help you prepare your child and know what to expect before a procedure, appointment or hospital admission.

Transfers  – ICU to Ward, Hospital to Hospital

Moving from the ICU to the Ward

When your baby or child is ready for transfer from the Intensive Care Unit to a ward, it means they are moving to a ward because their condition has improved and they no longer need specialist ICU therapies and care. This is a positive step forward in your child’s recovery. The following list provides some information to help you prepare or to ask your medical team about before the transfer.

In the ICU your baby child may have had 1 to 1 care from a nurse. Nurses on the wards care for more than 1 child at a time. They won’t be at your child’s bedside at all times and they will need to leave the room. Sometimes they also need to leave the ward to take other children for tests. If they are off the ward there is always another nurse available for anything urgent.

The ward may be noisier than ICU. There may be more visitors, televisions and the children on the ward may not be as sick. Your baby or child may be sharing a room with 1 or more children. Usually, you can sleep by your child’s bed.

There may be changes to the amount or types of medication your child receives when they move to the ward. It can be useful to ask if there will be changes to medications and if these changes will affect your baby or child.

When you move to the ward you may be expected to be more involved in daily care of your child such as bathing, feeding, movement etc. It can be useful to ask if you will be more involved in your child’s care and what to expect.

Transfers to the ward can sometimes happen at short notice as beds become available. A few tips to help you prepare:

  • Have your personal items organised – if you have been in the hospital for a while you might have a lot of personal items that will also need to be moved.
  • Ask if it is possible to be shown the ward you are moving to in advance so you know what to expect.
  • Ask your care team any questions you have – write them down so you don’t forget.

Hospital to hospital transfers

There are a few reasons why your baby or child may be transferred to a different hospital. A health professional will
explain why they are being moved.

  • If they need specialist care, equipment or surgery that is provided at a different hospital.
  • To be moved to a unit closer to home if they no longer need specialist treatment at a unit further away.
  • If your baby/child needs an operation they may need to go to a hospital that has a surgical centre and then moved back when the operation is completed

Useful links

Preparing for discharge

Visit our preparing for discharge section for information to help you prepare and know what to expect when your child is ready to go home. 

Our shared care section provides useful advice and tips from parents to help you know what to expect and how to stay organised if your child will received care from more than one service – shared care.

Feedback and complaints

See our Feedback and Complaints page for information about how to make a complaint or provide feedback on a service you have received from hospital or community services.

Feedback and Complaints
Children in Hospital Ireland Resources

Mental Health Inpatient Admission

The Mental Health commission have created a self-advocacy and right-based guide for young people accessing in-patient child and adolescent mental health services in Ireland called the Headspace Toolkit.

These guides will help you and your child/adolescent know what to expect during an inpatient mental health admission, advocate for their rights and understand the language used by medical professionals.

Please note these guides were created in 2009. Updated versions are expected to be available in early 2024.

Toolkit Guide

The 12 Power Tools

Jargon Buster