Despite mixed-sex wards being banned by the Department of Health (DoH) in December 2010, many trusts were still breaching the guidelines. Following a dramatic improvement in results a year on, Wendy Duckham, Sales and Marketing Director at long-standing NHS supplier, Construction Specialties (CS), considers some of the measures hospitals can take to enhance the patient experience, while adhering to DoH criteria as cost-effectively as possible.
At the time when fines for breaching the DoH’s criteria were introduced in December 2010, it was reported that 11,082 hospitals housed patients in mixed-sex wards. Following January’s announcement from Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, it has been confirmed that from December 2010 – December 2011, a reduction of 94 per cent meant that only 767 patients were being placed on these wards. This shift in priority means that a record 73 per cent of hospital Trusts are now reporting zero cases, compared with 52 per cent in December 2010.
Looking at the bigger picture
Mixed sex wards can cause discomfort but similarly, other factors that can impact on a patient’s comfort, security and general wellbeing during their stay are equally as challenging. The sometimes threatening behaviour of others on shared wards, in waiting and reception areas can have a destructive influence.
Attending Accident & Emergency (A&E), as a patient or a visitor, is often stressful and worrying. The clinical environment can feel impersonal and uncomfortable. And all of this, exaggerated by being in pain, can alter a person’s behaviour.
According to The National Audit Office, the human and financial costs of violence and aggression in A&E departments is estimated at £69m a year – taking into account staff absence, loss of productivity and additional security. This is obviously a huge financial hit but also presents a concerning statistic of the consequences on care providers and patients overall.
Creating a more positive caring environment
These problems cannot be counteracted by design and design alone but there is no doubt that intelligent décor, layout and installation can help. With as many as 56,000 physical assaults occurring in NHS hospitals each year and some Trusts still coming under fire for flouting DoH policy, design can play a much bigger part in putting these ongoing issues to bed than is currently being exploited.
Designing out undesirable behaviours
Aesthetics are an important aspect in any retrofit or new build healthcare facility. Decorative finishes, hygienic surfaces and privacy solutions are all design elements which can help keep destructive behaviour at bay and provide patients with an all together more calming, considerate place to recuperate.
Forward thinking hospitals across the UK have sought to use solutions that provide important visual stimulation and protection from inevitable wear and tear.
Taking inspiration from nature
With these objectives in mind, installing textured wall sheeting in varying colours and designs provided a bright and clean finish for the refurbishment at Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool, where special effects were used to create a feeling of being outdoors.
Pembury Hospital in Kent, took it one step further by purposely designing its layout to provide the majority of its rooms with a view of the surrounding woodland. Furthermore, as the UK’s first NHS hospital to offer all patients’ private accommodation it’s breaking the mould when it comes to committing to the DoH guidelines on mixed sex wards.
Putting patient dignity first
Where budget issues come into play, cubicle curtain tracks and disposable curtains can help protect privacy and offer a viable, lower cost alternative for refurbishment programmes without the funds to replica the facilities at Pembury.
Equally, they also prevent bacteria and infection from spreading and coupled with hygienic coatings containing anti-microbial properties, hospitals have another tactic in their armory against fighting so-called ‘Superbugs’ and patients are put more at ease, knowing their caregiver has taken all possible steps to maintain a hygienic environment.
Beyond aesthetic appeal
There are many elements which contribute to the perceived quality of a patient’s care. Interior design and functionality of products beyond aesthetic appeal are just some of the factors that need to be considered. By gaining expert guidance from a supplier with a track record in helping hospitals to overcome the challenges of creating safe, secure, sterile and sensitive environments on an NHS budget, decision makers can look to new and cost-effective ways to design out negativity and promote a more positive patient experience.