World-first as UK launches mental health construction products guidance

BRE and the Design in Mental Health Network launch mental health products certification scheme to address long-standing problems for designers and manufacturers

A new comprehensive testing regime is being launched which, for the first time ever, will provide standards for the design and testing of construction products for use in mental health settings. 

The world-first testing scheme launched this week and offers vulnerable psychiatric patients more protection from self harm and better environments more conducive to recovery. 

The certification scheme – known as Informed Choices – is being rolled out by built environment specialist, BRE, and not-for profit group, the Design in Mental Health Network (DIMHN), and comes as the UK marks Mental Health Awareness Week

It is the result of a five-year partnership between BRE and DIMHN and will offer comprehensive testing guidance for materials, fixtures and hardware designed for use within mental healthcare facilities.

The move will help to standardise products needed to mitigate common issues faced within mental health settings, for example anti-barricade doors.

Supporting staff and patients

“At a time when health services are struggling amid the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the resulting increase in people suffering from mental health issues; the scheme will ensure consistency in safety standards across the sector, supporting staff and the patients in their care,” explains BRE chief executive, Gillian Charlesworth.

“It will also simplify procurement for NHS trusts and other health authorities, removing excess costs incurred through the proliferation of different products and testing methods which currently exist. 

“More time can then be spent on ensuring the very fabric of treatment facilities is conducive to patient recovery.”

Up until now, there has been no global standard to assess the safety of products used in mental health facilities. 

By introducing this scheme, BRE and DIMHN aim to help protect people at their most0vulnerable time – when they see no other option but to self harm or take their own life. 

To develop the guidance, BRE and DIMHN sought input from over 60 experts globally, led by a team in the UK.

“The built environment is increasingly considered crucial to mental health and the launch of Informed Choices follows several recent research initiatives looking at the positive role that buildings can play in the healing process for people with mental health disorders,” said Charlesworth. 

“This theme was explored in detail in an DIMHN report in 2017 which included research showing that there is a 20% reduction in the average length of stay in a mental health facility following a ward refurbishment.” 

Safer environments

The Design in Mental Health Network is a not-for-profit UK-based organisation made up of professionals who volunteer their time and talent to promote best practice and the impact good design has, across all building disciplines, in the recovery of patients staying in a mental health facilities.

Charlesworth, said: “The pandemic has resulted in a sharp increase in people suffering from poor mental health so now, more than ever, it is crucial that the construction, design, and health industries work together to create safer environments for patients. 

“BRE and DIMHN are proud to be at the forefront of this.

“As a world first, the scheme also represents the best of British innovation, with international manufacturers and healthcare providers looking closely at adopting this standard around the world.”

DIMHN chairman, Philip Ross, adds: “Creating space to allow clinicians to care for those with mental ill health presents a number of challenges for designers and specifiers: the importance of creating a healing environment that supports recovery, while coping with behaviours of people who are at their most-distressed time. 

“We’ve created these standardised tests to allow people involved in creating these spaces to make more-informed choices about the products within the building – better product selection, with great architecture will keep patients and staff safe, and help foster better therapeutic relationships for a more sustaining recovery. 

“With interest in this scheme from USA and Australia, we believe this initiative can help millions of people at their most-vulnerable time.”

Delivering value

The guidance has been widely welcomed by mental healthcare providers, manufacturers, and architects.

Head of major capital and property management for West London NHS Trust, John Atkins, told hdm: “The physical environment plays a major role in delivering successful clinical outcomes for vulnerable people in our hospitals who are suffering from mental health issues. 

“The certification scheme will clearly become a valuable tool enabling trusts to procure products which already have a specific testing certification, which, in turn, will save them time and money undertaking their own, very-similar, testing.”

And Pete Stead, associate director at P+HS Architects, which specialise in healthcare and residential design, said: “The certification scheme will be invaluable in helping design teams, trusts, manufacturers, and contractors deliver spaces that are fit for purpose and centred on recovery, allowing the environment to better reflect the needs of the care pathway. 

“The guidance will also allow project teams to assess products and specify performance levels to suit acuity, thus delivering better value for the client.”


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