Issue date: 18 December 2001

Bright ideas aimed at making children’s experiences of hospital less frightening were designed into plans for the new Bristol Children’s Hospital from the start. These include light, colourful surroundings, child-height windows and furniture, and themes to distinguish the different levels. Original artworks include dozens of hand-drawn tiles used to wonderful effect in treatment areas like the hydrotherapy pool. Now that the hospital has been in use for over six months, researchers from the University of the West of England have been chosen to find out what impact these new surroundings are making on children, parents and staff.

The study, which starts in January, will use interviews and observation techniques over a four-month period to look at how individual children and adults behave in and respond to the new environment. The project is in a unique position, as it will be able to make comparisons with data from an earlier report on conditions in the old children’s hospital. Funded by NHS Estates, the new report will concentrate on the new environment and its effects, and look at whether benefits have been achieved by the innovative design and the use of artworks.

“The importance of art as a distraction is phenomenal,” said Dr Maggie Redshaw, a psychologist who is leading the research project. “Its role in the hospital is to modify negative feelings where possible and turn them into positive ones. The art and design features are not merely an attempt to try and normalise the situation for the children – with beds and duvets like those at home, for example - but to make it an experience that is out of the ordinary.”

One way that areas of the children’s hospital have been designed to be special is that some of them can be put to multiple uses. The outpatients department, for example, is decorated with a circus theme, and can be altered in the evenings thanks to its flexible seating for use as puppet shows or for gatherings. And the playrooms have an educational purpose, with large play items made by the playleaders to simulate equipment such as a whole body scanner so that children who may have to come into contact with the real thing can have their fears allayed.

It is expected that 60 children, 400 parents and 200 staff will be asked to take part in the project. In all, £1 million was spent on artworks for the hospital, almost entirely from donations to the Wallace and Gromit Grand Appeal.* Lessons learnt from the project will be widely disseminated throughout the NHS.

Ian Barrington, of the United Bristol NHS Trust, who is general manager for the Bristol Royal Hospital for Children and chairs the Arts advisory committee said:

“ The study conducted at UWE will provide direct feedback to managers and hospital staff on how the innovative design work is being received, and will help inform best practice in the National Health Service as a whole.”


Editor’s Notes

1. The first report into the impact of the environment of the old children’s hospital was funded by Champions of Child Health at the Institute of Child Health, Bristol.

2. The Wallace and Gromit Grand Appeal raised £11 million towards the cost of the children’s hospital, then went on to raise a further £1 million to fund the programme of art at the new hospital. Fundraising continues, and further details are available from www.grandappeal.org.uk or 0800 919 649

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