The art of protection

Kate Waterston of Construction Specialties explains how good interior design can speed up patient recovery times in hospitals, but needs to be balanced with maintenance and whole-life costs

The positive effects of a colourful, comfortable and welcoming environment on patient wellbeing have been known for some time. Studies have established a link between recovery times and the environment, with visual art playing an important role. Art diverts attention away from pain and stress, may lower blood pressure and may even reduce the need for pain relief. Evidence suggests the sense of being outdoors also improves recovery times, while colourful murals help reduce the stress of being in an unfamiliar environment – particularly the case among children.

‘DH Health Building Note 00-01: General design principles’, one of a suite of guidance documents published by the Department of Health in 2013, emphasises the importance of art and décor. Significantly, it suggests art should not be seen as an ‘add-on’ but something to be integrated fully in the design process. Art and colour can also help architects ensure people with mobility issues and visual impairment can access and move around healthcare facilities safely and easily. Both ‘Approved Document M – Access to and use of buildings, provision for inclusive design’ and ‘BS 8300-2:2018, Design of an accessible and inclusive built environment’ require the use of contrasting colours to differentiate between doors, walls, floors and ceilings, for example. Clear pictorial signage and the use of colour and art can also help non-English speakers identify particular routes and rooms, making access easier and reducing the number of signs needed.

Durable design

There is a need to strike a balance between design and durability, however. Damaged surfaces create an unwelcoming feel and can lead to increased long-term costs, if the building fabric needs to be continually repaired and replaced. ‘DH HBN 00‐10: Part B: Walls and ceilings’ outlines performance requirements, with a focus on infection control, which is covered in even more detail by ‘DH HBN 00-09: Infection control in the built environment’. Surface finishes in healthcare facilities need to be hard-wearing, hygienic, easy to clean and maintain, particularly in high traffic spaces, such as receptions, corridors and lift lobbies. In sensitive areas, such as operating theatres, specified finishes must also have chemical resistance to cope with intensive cleaning. In addition, wall linings must offer fire resistance that complies with ‘Health Technical Memorandum 05-02: Firecode Guidance in support of functional provisions (Fire safety in the design of healthcare premises); Approved Document B (B2, Section 6)’ of the Building Regulations and be tested to BS or BS EN Fire tests. Tough, impact resistant and easy-to-clean wall coverings are readily available to offer complete design flexibility, while meeting inclusive design guidelines, hygiene standards and fire regulations.

These protection systems can also be fitted to reception desks, columns, or door frames and leaves, to achieve homogenous design, while maintaining integrity and increasing working life. Offered in a wide range of colours, protective sheets and panels can be cut into design shapes or used in different colour combinations to achieve visual contrast. It is worth considering specifying ‘through-colour’ materials, as they minimise and hide damage, and will not delaminate. Some interior protection systems allow high quality images, logos or artwork to be embedded, creating bespoke floor-to-ceiling designs. Impact and scratch resistant, impervious and easy to clean, they remove the worry of damage to surfaces and the artwork itself, without compromising on performance. For example, a calm and non-institutional environment for babies and parents was created in the Sub-Regional Neonatal Intensive Care Centre at Glan Clwyd Hospital using Construction Specialities’ Acrovyn by Design wall protection, incorporating bespoke graphics of trees and butterflies. Additionally, two contrasting colours of durable Acrovyn Sheet were used on door frames and leaves to comply with inclusive design requirements, while prolonging lifespan and minimising maintenance.

Acrovyn Sheets, along with heavy duty crashrails and corner guards, were also used to create a welcoming, inclusive and fit-for-purpose environment in the refurbishment of the Royal Oldham Hospital’s A&E department. Different colours were used to help with wayfinding and sheets were cut to form murals and signage, creating an ‘urban park’ look in waiting areas. It is clear that interior design in healthcare has to be balanced with material performance, to ensure that the environment is kept to as high a standard as possible, for as long as possible. Fortunately, modern protection systems do offer complete design freedom in healthcare buildings, incorporating high impact graphics and bold colours, while delivering hygienic, impact resistant, low-maintenance solutions for walls and doors.

Kate Waterston is UK sales manager at Construction Specialties