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News archive - May 2018

The art of healing

The art of healing

Art is becoming increasingly central to the overall design of paediatric units, helping to make environments appear less institutional and, in many cases, taking patients’ minds off their condition and treatment.

This approach was evident during the recent refurbishment of the paediatric unit at the San Carlos Hospital in Madrid, where wall panels and furniture are adorned with the multi-coloured geometric shapes that have become the trademark of local artist, Okuda San Miguel.

Printed onto Younique decorative wall panels from Formica Group, the renovation has created an artistic space that patients, family members and the centre’s medical staff can all enjoy.

Dr Esther Aleo, director of the Child and Adolescent Institute of the Hospital Clinic of Madrid, said: “The kind of atmosphere that surrounds the admission of a child is, without doubt, very important.

“Details such as the lighting and comfort of the space where they will spend hours waiting are fundamental.

“Art allows us to seek refuge and find an escape, strength, and happiness, which is what the children, their families and medical staff can perceive in Okuda’s work.”

Public health

In the UK, Art in Site recently worked with illustrator, Richard Hogg, on the new children’s emergency unit at King’s College Hospital, London.

Hogg illustrated a series of animals that play across ceilings and walls in the facility.

Peter Shenai, Art in Site’s creative strategist, said: “Art can reassure children by providing comforting, child-friendly stimulation that makes them feel they belong here in the child-positive environment.

“In this sense the environment acts as an extension to the doctor’s child-friendly bedside manner, giving an impression to children, and their parents, that their needs will be understood, respected and well catered for.

“This is also a public health issue: Young children coming into hospital are at a formative stage of their lives. If the environment is scary and adult-focused, this can lead them to develop phobias to the hospital, which spells trouble for the staff who have to treat them in the future.”

But paediatric units can cater for children of all ages and an important part of the design process is accepting that a one-size-fits-all solution isn’t always the best answer.

Shenai, who also worked on an interactive art app for children visiting St Thomas’ paediatric emergency department in London, said: “It comes down to understanding the user group and hearing from staff and patients themselves about their emotional and practical needs.

“Some staff will have a particular idea about a role for art to play, for example to distract or stimulate children during treatment.

“Alongside this, we may hear from children/parents that they want something ‘friendly’ to accompany them across their journey.

“The tricky part comes in trying to provide an artistic strategy that keeps all of this in mind, while not losing the creative spark that keeps artwork fresh and interesting.”

The age of technology

Integrating art and technology is helping to provide that spark.

For example, when the new £250m Alder Hey Children’s Health Park opened in 2016 it featured a bespoke patient entertainment system featuring its own family of animated characters, The Hardleeys of Alder Hey.

As part of the project, developed by Jungle Creative, the corridor approach to the radiology department has the Hardleeys’ underground burrow projected onto the walls, and in each of the sub waiting rooms there are two TV screens with an animation introducing all of the characters.

In the ultrasound department, children can choose to watch one of 10 films presented by budding inventor, Isambard - one of the Hardleeys. These are projected via iPad onto the ceiling, helping to keep children calm during their procedures. A button on the iPad also connects to YouTube so youngsters can choose their own programmes to watch.

Elsewhere, interactive tablet-driven games are used on the cardiology and oncology ward play areas to encourage the children to socialise and move around - a crucial part of their recovery.

And the story of the Hardleeys continues in the outpatient waiting room garden, where actress, Sue Johnston, narrates a 24-minute film, revealing the family history and plans for the future.

There are also eight periscopes linked to iPads, which enable children to watch the characters as they go about their daily activities.

Jungle Creative managing director, Graham Ebbs, said: “Rather than just putting TVs and paintings on the walls, the project team wanted to see how far they could go digitally and how they could make things more interactive.

“Children are now so technologically literate that you need to think outside the box.

“You don’t want children just sitting in bed playing on their own on their iPads, and you can’t compete with the multi-million-pound games and apps that are out there.

“The Hardleeys have enabled us to offer great solutions to both of these problems.”

A source of information

The company’s creative director, Allan Johnston, added: “In radiology, we’ve had great feedback as the digital films help to distract and relax patients and their parents, leaving the medical staff to do their jobs.

“In addition, the play therapists use them to encourage children to mobilise and interact with one another.”

Sharing information is another reason why art, and in particular digital art, is increasingly being incorporated into paediatric design.

“Being well informed is key to a patient’s wellbeing, particularly in the emergency department,” said Shenai.

“No-one wants to wait around not knowing what is about to happen. Therefore, all of the emergency projects we’ve worked on blend art and information together.

“At the same time, information is often so dry that people ignore it or miss it. Our job is to bring some life, emotion, and vitality to the wayfinding and information - to make it enticing to read and easier to understand.”

This approach can also incorporate sensory tools to assist children with a range of disabilities.

Having partnered with Loxit; Sensory Guru has seen its Magic Carpet interactive projection system installed into hospitals and special needs facilities across the country.

It is currently the only NHS-approved interactive floor projection system and uses a motion-capture camera to tracks users as they move over the projected apps.

This movement data informs the software of the speed, direction and location of the movement.

The software then converts this data into dynamic audio-visual feedback, which users experience as real-time cause and effect triggered by their movements.”


One place where this innovation is being used is in the paediatric phlebotomy unit at The Princess Royal University District General Hospital, which forms part of King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.

Sian Spencer-Little, a specialised play practitioner at the trust, said: “We were looking for something that was quite distinctive in its capabilities to help us within a clinical setting and were keen to have a product that is tailored to children and young people of all ages and stages of development.

“It’s about choosing a product that is really interactive and could be led by children and young people so they can have some control over their environment.

“It can transform the hospital environment into a magical place that feels completely different to a traditional hospital setting. This helps to create a sense of calmness for children and young people in what can be a stressful experience.”

Commenting on the impact it has made, she added: “Lots of children now even get excited about the thought of coming to hospital. It is no longer a scary experience that they want to try and avoid.”

But Shenai warns: “Many new builds allocate an arts budget, usually about 1% of the total build cost. What’s more, specialist art co-coordinators are becoming more common to healthcare.

“Nonetheless, there is this tendency for questions of art and the environment to get pushed to the bottom of the priority list, especially as trusts across the country feel the sting of austerity.

“This attitude is actually self-defeating, though, as data on our work has shown that investing in arts actually gives services a huge return for their money - increasing patient wellbeing, staff retention, and improving service efficiency - all of which is needed to see any service through difficult times.”



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