Needle-Lil’ help? Step forward East Kent Hospitals’ children’s diabetes team

Christina Ames O'Regan pracitising inserting a needle into a fake arm as part of a clinic helping young people with diabetes and needle anxiety

Published on 16 December 2020

Teenager Christina Ames-O’Regan was so terrified of needles she put off vital blood tests that help doctors monitor her diabetes.

But with a little help from East Kent Hospitals’ children’s diabetes team and an innovative new clinic, she is now conquering her fears.

The Whitstable schoolgirl was diagnosed with diabetes seven years ago and has struggled since then with the daily injections needed to manage her condition. The thought of the annual blood test made her feel overwhelmingly anxious.

Clinical psychologist Dr Amy-Kate Hurrell and children’s diabetes nurse Jade Clark have been working with her in their new clinic for young people with needle anxiety – called Needle-Lil’ Help.

Amy-Kate said: “A lot of people are anxious about blood tests or needles, and often we will do what we can to reassure them on the day and get it done as quickly as possible.

“But that doesn’t address the root cause of the anxiety or provide any long-term solution.

“For young people with diabetes who have needle anxiety we’ve found that using exposure therapy we can help them get used to needles and the process of having a blood test so it no longer triggers such an intense reaction.”

Christina said: “I used to feel really anxious every time I had to do anything with a needle, and if I had to have a blood test I just thought ‘no’ and I couldn’t do it.

“But in the clinic we have talked about the process and what happens and although I feel anxious to begin with, when we sit there and do it, it starts to fade away and I feel calmer.”

The team started by watching videos with needles in, then looked at different types of needles before moving on to demonstrating a blood test on a fake arm.

Christina was then able to have a go at finding a vein and inserting the needle on the fake arm, before staff enacted the steps leading up to a blood test on her arm.

Each step, whether applying the tourniquet, cleaning the arm, probing for a vein, or taking out the needle, is performed in isolation, with Christina grading her anxiety at each point.

If it increases, the process stops and the team wait until it subsides.

Jade said: “Christina has been an absolute superstar, as are all our patients in this clinic.

“The progress they make is inspiring and they are so courageous in wanting to tackle it and trusting us and the process.

“Because we go through all the steps, when it comes to the actual blood test it’s not a big deal as it’s just a tiny bit further than they have practised.”

Blood tests will be carried out by Jade using the techniques practised in the clinic, but the hope is that the young patients will be so desensitised to the procedure that they will be able to have it done anywhere.

The children’s diabetes team is based at the William Harvey Hospital but the clinics run at all East Kent Hospital Trust sites.