The Great Western Hospital in Swindon is set to become the first in the country to pilot an innovative scheme that offers extra support to young patients with a hidden disability.

From Monday 4 February, children visiting the Swindon hospital with a condition that has no visible symptoms, such as autism, bipolar disorder and epilepsy, will be offered a bespoke sunflower lanyard to wear which makes staff aware that they have a hidden disability.

Although the sunflower lanyards have been commonplace at several UK airports, the scheme has yet to be trialled at any NHS hospital.

News of the scheme, which was developed in partnership with Swindon SEND Families Voice, a local forum for parents of children with disabilities, has already been warmly received by families across Swindon, many of whom spend days, and sometimes weeks, preparing their little one for a trip to hospital.

Gill May, Director of Nursing and Transformation at Swindon Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “Attending hospital can be a daunting experience for any child, but it can be even worse for a child with a hidden disability.

“Loud noises, large crowds and unfamiliar surroundings can cause real distress and anxiety to a child with autism and, while we can’t change the sometimes scary sights and sounds of a hospital, we can get behind this simple yet effective scheme.

“By discreetly shining a light on hidden disabilities, staff, patients and other visitors will not only be able to adapt their behaviour – for example, speaking in a softer voice to someone feeling particularly anxious – but also help them to better understand why a child might be acting in a certain way.

“As soon as we saw the difference the lanyards were making to children at airports, we knew we wanted to replicate that success in the NHS and we’re extremely proud to be the first area in the country to introduce such a worthwhile initiative.”

The lanyard scheme will be trialled in the Children’s Unit for 12 weeks before being rolled out to other areas of the Great Western Hospital.

Once a child has been given a lanyard, it will be theirs to keep, meaning it can be brought along to all future planned and unplanned visits to hospital.  

Further information about hidden disabilities can be found by visiting