A virtual reality app to help children prepare for surgery and reduce their anxiety ahead of going into hospital has been launched by Sligo University Hospital.

The 'Little Journey' app is geared towards children aged between three and 13 and it gives them 360 degree views of all the areas they will visit at the hospital.

It also has information about anaesthesiology, which is tailored to their age.

Speaking about the anxiety children and parents can feel before undergoing general anaesthesia, Dr Anne Dolan, Consultant Anaesthesiologist at SUH said: "Children may have anxiety around the clinical environment, their expectation of events, meeting unfamiliar people and even fear of pain.

"Parents generally accompany their child to theatre and are present with their child when the anaesthetic is first administered.

"Some of the parent's anxiety comes from their fear of the unknown and the steps surrounding their role with their child at the time their child undergoes anaesthesia."

Last year approximately 1,300 general anaesthetics were administered to children at SUH and Dr Dolan said that "by providing information through the app, which uses child-friendly animation, we can begin to prepare parents and children for surgery and ease their distress."

SUH General Manager Grainne McCann said the app is already in use in 16 countries and Sligo is the first hospital in Ireland to introduce it for patients.

The app gives children the chance to meet animated healthcare characters who will explain what they do and what happens on the day of surgery.

They can also see some of the equipment, which will be used to care for them, find out more about what to expect on the day of their procedure and includes a virtual tour of the children's day ward, the anaesthesiology room and the recovery room at the hospital.

The 'Little Journey' app is free to download from Google Play Store or App Store and is available for use on a smartphone in 2D or can be used with a 3D virtual reality headset.