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Design for Patient Dignity

Since 2009, the National Health Service has had a priority of ensuring that hospital wards are single-sex. Whilst this has been achieved for most patients, around one in ten report that they shared sleeping accommodation with a member of the opposite sex - a situation that adds to their personal stress levels at an already worrying time.

This project, led by Helen Hamlyn senior associate Maja Kecman, took on the challenge set by the Department of Health & the Design Council of improving privacy & dignity for all patients. Out-dated patient communication, confusing signage for toilets & bathroom facilities & revealing ward gowns can all negatively impact on the patient experience of a hospital stay.

What did i do?

Working in a team of three designers we were briefed to consider the clothing provided to patients and the quality of information available to them, and to explore ways in which a greater sense of privacy could be achieved for patients.

The research began by addressing the patient journey through the hospital in order to define key areas for improvement. An evidence base was gathered through immersive research with a wide range of hospital users, including patients and their families, carers, frontline NHS staff and suppliers.

Observations, interviews, workshops and design provocations yielded many insights and identified opportunities for change. Design concepts were evaluated, refined and tested with selected users to create final prototypes that could be developed for production.

Several new ideas resulted, each aimed at reducing vulnerability and improving dignity. A new signage system allows ward staff to easily change facilities from male to female without having to wait for hospital technicians. 

To better communicate with patients about their hospital stay, a Patient Information Sheet doubles as a disposable tablemat to be placed in each bay with ward information on it. It can be personalised by staff or contain details about the particular day, such as meal times and visiting hours. The design outcome won the Building Better Healthcare Award - 'Award for Best Product used to Enhance Communication' (Sept 2010).

The Mixed-Sex Ward Divider is a separation device. Reconfiguring the architectural layout of a building is expensive so this simple, pullout screen is fixed to either side of the ward and suspended from the ceiling. It can be pulled out to different lengths, concertina-style, to create a barrier across or down the middle of the ward, dividing the room and ensuring privacy and segregation of the sexes.

The project also saw the redesigned of two patient garments to accommodate different user needs.

The Helen Hamlyn Centre's prototypes were launched by the Design Council at an exhibition in London in March 2010 alongside work by other design teams as part of a national design initiative.