Hetty's Hospital

Global Initiative


Global Initiative is a digital agency in the heart of Oxford. Founded in 1999, it is
directed by Gareth Nixon and Chris Sinclair and now comprises 14 staff. Specialising
in start-up and enterprise software, Global Initiative supports various projects
through its Initiative 100k Fund for those that will have a positive social impact.

More information about the fund: https://www.global-initiative.com/article/100ksocial-digital-support-fund-launched/

Hetty’s Hospital was conceived by two paediatricians, Drs Ria Evans and Rebecca Duncombe. They won runner-up in the TVWLA 2023 Challenge. The project was awarded funding to complete a releasable trial version of the app. Global Initiative translated and developed the idea into an app for tablets and mobiles. They also funded half of the project through their Initiative £100k Fund for socially impactful digital projects.

General Summary

Hetty’s Hospital began as a solution to the turmoil that any parent taking their child into hospital faces: how can we reduce the anxiety for our children going into hospital and make the experience as worry-free as possible? The solution is the brainchild of two pediatricians: a storybook app with games teaching kids all about the hospital experience. Through the narrative of the eponymous Hetty and her three friends, the app mixes key, informative messages with wacky, mess-galore games such as the sick-bucket and wee-in-the-pot games. As graphic as these games might seem to
grown-ups, it was demonstrated as the most effective way of captivating our target audience. The app, which is freely available on iTunes and Play Store, has received nearly 1,000 downloads in the time since release. Designed to be played before or during a child’s hospital visit, allowing for unscheduled appointments and parental involvement. The team has been approached by other organisations to contribute ideas and funding for new stories. It is optimised for tablets but works on smartphones.


Hospital can be an intimidating experience for many adults, but, for children – despite the best efforts of parents and dedicated staff – the idea of going into hospital can be fraught with anxiety.

Paediatricians Dr Becky Duncombe and Dr Ria Evans realised that there was a genuine need for something that could reduce the stress of children going into hospital and, if well executed, could actually make the experience enjoyable. The format of a downloadable app was chosen for accessibility; Becky and Ria were determined to make something that could be freely available in order to meet the overall ambition that every child in the UK going into hospital could benefit from playing Hetty’s Hospital. Becky and Ria came to Global Initiative after receiving funding from the NHS 2023 Challenge, but we soon realised the budget was
still a long way short from what it needed to be to create anything that would do the idea justice.

Because we were so instantly inspired by the project and already felt such affinity with what the doctors were trying to achieve, we decided to sponsor the project ourselves with Global Initiative’s dedicated £100K Initiative Fund.


Working directly with Rebecca and Ria from the very beginning, a dedicated team at GI began to evolve the concept of the project, iterating and refining the idea and characters until there was a viable solution that could satisfy the team’s aspirations. The next stage of planning was the creation of storyboards which would map out the entire experience of the app from start to finish, and provide a foundation for the rest of the team to work from. The storyboarding process was led by GI’s Head of Design Niki Forecast, who, as well as leading the creative throughout the project, also makes a cameo appearance as the voice of Nurse Ethel – as do many of the team involved. The team at GI also consisted of Gareth Nixon who helped conceive and lead the building of the app and was also responsible for the development of the game technology.

Chris Sinclair led the project delivery and Ben Walton was responsible for the fantastic animations that bring the app to life. The app was launched on the iOS App Store and Android Play Store in October 2017, and, although this was a momentous occasion for everyone involved, this is very much just the beginning for Hetty. With funding for Phase 2 secured from UCLH, we are already underway creating dedicated storylines for cancer, diabetes, allergies, and dentistry.


We’ve included results from a feedback survey that was sent to a focus group of 20
children to test Hetty’s Hospital. As you will see, the results were compelling: with 80% of the group saying they had learnt something from the app and 90% of them
saying they had either enjoyed or really enjoyed playing it. The launch was timed to coincide with National Play in Hospital Week 2017. The reaction was exciting; the first social media post was shared almost 400 times. The app was posted by parents and doctors alike in relevant forums and social media channels. The app reached 3rd place on the iTunes store for medical apps in the UK and ITV Meridian has approached us to further publicise Hetty’s Hospital. Users not only feel the results of the app are helpful and supportive but are spreading the word. This popularity also translates into downloads, with nearly 1000 downloads on the iOS App Store and Play Store combined in the short time since its release. It is worth considering that up until now, the majority of marketing surrounding it has been via word of mouth – we are very excited at the prospect of what more publicity could bring in the new year.

The first phase of the app covers some common procedures for kids in hospitals including an ultrasound, an X-Ray, and an MRI scan. However, we soon realised the enormous potential of the app for helping kids with far more chronic illnesses, things that are incredibly difficult to talk about.

After securing funding for the second phase of Hetty’s Hospital from UCLH, we’ve already started work on four new storylines, including a child with diabetes and a child with cancer. We want the app to have as much resonance as possible and believe it could be the best solution for explaining some these difficult topics for children suffering from such life changing diseases. Our four new characters are:
Nimesh – he suffers from severe allergies and his story explains the various symptoms, diagnosis methods and treatments available.
Cassia – she has a form of cancer and helps explain the basics of the disease and how it can be fought. She also introduces all the different people involved in her treatment and recovery, from doctors to nurses, psychiatrists and family.
Leo – is diabetic. Like the others, he explains the condition, the options for treatment, how to recognise the symptoms and the people there to help.
Petra – dentistry. This story will concentrate on processes and procedures, much like the original stories, rather than condition. Helping to explain to children what to expect for standard visits and common procedures at the dentist can greatly reduce the anxiety a child, and their parent, will feel.

With regards to longer-term sustainability we, Becky, Ria and Global Initiative, plan to incorporate Hetty’s Hospital into a limited company, which will make it easier and more manageable to fund. Our desire is very much to keep Hetty’s Hospital as accessible as possible and we have a real sense of responsibility in ensuring the project’s longevity.

Relevance to Others

In order to market Hetty’s Hospital, the launch onto the App Store coincided with National Play in Hospital Week, and saw the team travel down to promote it at UCLH alongside other Play in Hospital initiatives. We’ve created business cards with the details of the app that have been handed out far and wide and Hetty’s Hospital posters have also been scattered across Doctors’ surgery waiting rooms throughout Oxfordshire. Hetty is active on Twitter and Facebook and is becoming quite the
sensation on Instagram.
 https://www. Facebook. com/ExploringHettysHospital/
 https://twitter. com/hettyshospital
 https://www. Instagram. com/hettyshospital/

Anyone involved with health care that has come across a problem and has a great idea for a solution but isn’t sure what to do next can find inspiration in this project. The process that Dr Duncombe and Dr Evans went through – applying for funding from NHS 2023 Challenge, securing further funding from Global Initiative, and, most importantly, seeing the project through to the end – proves what can be done with tenacity and determination. Not only do we hope the project itself helps children across the UK, we also feel it holds enormous value in paving the way for similar initiatives. With regard to the project itself, we’ve received feedback that this would be a great platform for explaining issues to people with special needs, and even dementia. This is something we’d love to develop further, so we’re excited and positive for the future of the project.

Standing Out

What makes Hetty’s Hospital stand out is the incredibly positive sentiment that surrounds the project: from those that have worked on it, the medical professionals that are shouting about it, to  the users that are playing it. The app is quirky and genuinely fun to play. What captivates people, however, is the enormity of the problem that it is trying solve: every parent trying to console their young child before going into hospital or during a visit can appreciate the value that this app can have at making a hospital visit a little less daunting. The excitement around the project has been overwhelming, with so many new ideas about what it could do next. Besides developing more storylines to cover more medical conditions, the real potential lies in its ability to explain difficult topics to such a young audience.

Key Learning Points

The learning outcomes from the project I would highlight as follows:
 Test early and test well: We were very lucky to have direct access to an army of testers from the target audience via family members. The insights and  isconceptions that they highlighted so early on in the project were invaluable and meant significant usability issues could be addressed before they became expensive to fix later on.
 User Experience: Despite our constant testing throughout the project, the ability for users to discover and feedback on better ways to interact was crucial. In the future, we’d recommend allowing for more time and budget to address finding and solving user experience issues earlier.
 Marketing: This is often the forgotten link for innovators and start-ups. Finding funding to invest in marketing is a far more difficult task than finding funding to invest in the building of the app itself. Again, allowing more time and budget for this I think would be a good learning point for any future projects like this.

Watch the Presentation Here!