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Children fly through surgery in new superhero gowns


Inspiring hospital gowns which help young children having an operation by transforming them into fearless superheroes have been designed by a student at Brunel University London.

Working with the Bloomsbury Innovation Group and University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, BSc Product Design student Sophie Copley designed the ‘Little Heroes’ gowns for her final-year project.

They are part of ‘Little Sparks Hospital’ – a series of novel innovations (part of Dr Chris Evans’ PhD research) created to help children through their hospital journey and humanise their experience of healthcare.

The eye-catching ‘Little Heroes’ super-gowns have been developed for patients aged two to six years and all feature a detachable cape – which doubles as a comfort blanket - enlightening colours and a bold comic-style design. The two-piece garments have been dubbed ‘Zoots’.

Dr Evans explains why the gowns are needed: “For a child, the hospital experience can be confusing and fear provoking. It starts when they turn up to a bustling hospital ward with people dressed in pyjama-like clothes running around, all before 08.00 in the morning and on an empty stomach.

“They’re then given an uninspiring hospital gown and wristbands to put on - neither of which they want to do. They may have some time to play, but, must be vigilant to hold the gown closed at the back so as to not expose themselves to strangers.

“They’re then whisked away to another room with even more people, all asking their name and date of birth, before having a mask put on their face. Next thing they know they’re waking up in the recovery room! You can understand why a child might feel anxious with a sense of loss of control.”

The design team (Sophie, NHS England Clinical Entrepreneur Dr Chris Evans and supervisors, Paul Turnock and Dr Ramani Moonesinghe) wanted patient and public involvement to be at the heart of this project. It has had extensive input from children, parents and hospital staff throughout the transition from idea generation to the development of working prototypes through a mixture of surveys, one-on-one discussions, focus groups with healthcare professionals and children, and a superhero design competition for children. 

Preliminary research by Sophie and Dr Evans explored the main issues of the current hospital gowns through in-depth interviews with parents, hospital staff and children. This highlighted that children wanted an up-to-date exciting gown that they could relate to; staff wanted improved access to key parts of their patient’s bodies; and everyone wanted improved patient dignity and comfort.

“Giving young children the opportunity to become a superhero encourages them to feel empowered, strong and able to fight their fears during their pre-op experience, and play is encouraged as a form of treatment,” explains Sophie.

“We’ve used bright, primary, colours which not only mimic the outfits of some of the most famous superheroes recognised in popular culture, but also tick a lot of boxes in colour psychology – yellow for happiness and optimism, for example.

Made from fabrics suitable to withstand the rigorous infection control washing standards, the gowns maintain their comfort feel with 100% cotton trim and Velcro bindings across the shoulders for the detachable cape. Ties made from thick cotton tape in four bright colours allow each garment to be put on quickly and easily, meeting the requirements of child, anaesthetists, nurses and surgeons - all while ensuring the gowns don’t cause static or interfere with scanning or x-ray equipment.

NHS England defines quality within the NHS as a triad of patient experience of care, clinical effectiveness and patient safety. The Zoot fits perfectly with this ethos by helping to humanise children’s experiences of hospital and strengthen the patient-clinician relationship.

Sophie - who graduated this summer - has been awarded a number of prizes for Little Heroes, including the Mars Chocolate Design Thinking Award (a four week placement in the Mars Design Studio and £1,000) and the New Designers Gleeds Associate Prize for the designer best demonstrating lateral thinking, during this year's New Designers festival. Read more here.


Bloomsbury Innovation Group

Founded in January 2016, the Bloomsbury Innovation Group is a social enterprise formed by a team of healthcare professionals dedicated to bringing affordable, innovations to the NHS. BIG finds great ideas, seeks funding and develops products then makes them available to the NHS at the lowest possible cost.

Little Sparks Hospital

Dr Evans is an anaesthetic trainee completing a PhD at University College London assessing the impact of health technology, design and innovation on children’s anxieties surrounding surgery. He has created Little Sparks Hospital ( to target children’s anxiety at different time-points throughout the hospital pathway.

Reported by:

Sarah Cox, Media Relations