Hospital Furniture - Achieving the Balance of Functionality and a Patient-focused Environment

In this article, William Tonkinson, Managing Director of healthcare furniture manufacturers, Deanestor, looks at how furniture for healthcare environments does not have to compromise design.

As patients continue to develop a more consumer mindset, healthcare providers are under increasing pressure to reduce cost, improve quality, promote safety and best practice in infection control – as well as enhance the experience of patients.

Balancing these requirements is a major challenge and furniture manufacturers have an essential role to play in the development and commercial production of items that meet those needs.

Adapting to Change

Healthcare environments should be adaptable and designed to accommodate change – whether changing local demographics or for the introduction of new models of care. The design and layout of furniture should facilitate efficiency and communication to support care co-ordination and information sharing. Efficiency is also very important with space planning that minimises walking distance for both staff and patients.

Technology has impacted the design of healthcare environments. In older furniture layouts, clinicians often had their backs to patients and family members during consultations. With new models of care and the use of tablets, eye contact is maintained, and the consultation process is less intimidating. Clinicians as a result need to be able to move around freely and engage effectively, which further enhances the quality of the patient experience.

The Fundamentals of Infection Control

Infection control is central to the processes of any hospital. Fundamental elements of furniture design should underpin the control of contaminant build up in all patient contact areas. Access for cleaning has to be facilitated by the furniture design and the prevention of dirt traps. Finishes have to be both durable and easily cleaned with no surface joints.

The appearance of furniture should be attractive and non-institutional. Patient bedrooms are more than a space for a bed and medical equipment but should promote healing and give patients quiet respite that supports recovery.

Furniture that is attractive and well maintained creates a positive environment for patients, visitors and staff. Designers and manufacturers of healthcare facilities are also looking to other sectors such as hospitality to influence the design of spaces and products for patients.

Privacy should also be considered when planning healthcare environments. It is possible to achieve a level of privacy and openness by using architectural wall solutions or mobile furniture to allow hospitals to accommodate each patient’s unique needs.

The Diverse Needs of the Patient Population

Understanding the diverse needs of the patient population can impact on furniture specification to enhance the overall patient experience. Families in children’s hospitals, for example, can spend long periods of time in the wards. Creating attractive, functional furniture with good storage and levels of comfort are key.

Patients with dementia may find it difficult to differentiate between items that are the same or a similar colour – for example furniture that is a similar colour to the floor and/or walls may blend in and affect the ability to use it safely. Using bright and contrasting colours for furniture and furnishings, or coloured edging can help these patients to see things more easily.

Furniture used in mental health facilities demonstrates how a healthcare provider regards the patient and the expected behaviours. Facilities are often conservative and focus on the anti-ligature specifications in psychiatric care environments. However, there are also models of care which advocate more domestic environments, removing institutional references. Here the furniture should be comfortable and high quality; durable, safe and light. Modern materials can increase durability and lightness, are safer and offer unlimited options to creativity. 

Furniture in waiting areas can support a more active and transitional environment – and can be designed to reflect the corporate identity of the healthcare provider in the use of colour and finish selection, as well as determining how comfortable the patients will be.

How to Specify Hospital Furniture

A thorough analysis of each department’s processes and patient flows at the outset is essential. Mock-up rooms can be developed by the manufacturer to help achieve the optimum clinical functionality and aesthetic design.

Consider life cycle costing. This is important to achieve long-term value but is too frequently overlooked in furniture specification.

A good, specialist hospital furniture manufacturer will engage with the design and construction team at an early stage to develop the specification for manufacture and ensure the specific project requirements are met with as few deviations as possible.

Glue and dowel construction for cabinetry and pre-assembled carcases will radically reduce work and the number of fitters on site and should significantly improve quality. This type of furniture is also more durable to withstand the long-term rigours of a healthcare environment that may be in use 24/7.

A UK-based manufacturer will provide continuity of supply and reduces the risk of delays. Lead times should also be shorter, particularly in the supply of replacement products – and will support the UK manufacturing economy.

New build hospital projects typically have many variations in room layouts and more complex specialist items. This requires a high degree of project management to review the programme, manage manufacture and meet the contractor’s stringent delivery schedule. Skilled, trained fitters should be closely supervised by the furniture supplier’s directly employed project manager to maintain the quality of fitting out.

A track record in healthcare is also strongly recommended so the manufacturer can demonstrate a clear understanding of project requirements and detailed specifications – from producing compliant and accurate tenders, to developing designs that reflect best practice in infection control.

Case Study – Dumfries and Galloway Hospital

More than 5,000 items of furniture were manufactured and installed by Deanestor in a £1.4m contract for the new Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary.

Built by Laing O’Rourke and designed by Ryder Architecture with NBBJ, the £212m hospital provides high quality acute facilities in a welcoming, therapeutic environment. A palette of materials was developed for the scheme to convey longevity and to create an uplifting, person-centred and world-class facility for patients, staff and visitors.

Reducing the Clinical Feel of Patient Bedrooms

Deanestor manufactured more than 300 bespoke bedheads which were finished in a natural oak laminate and had provision for medical gases, electrics, nurse call system and lighting.

The bedhead units were designed for the specific requirements and layout of each individual room with over 40 variations and were installed by Deanestor’s own fitting team with removable panels for easy access to services.

Co-ordinating floor-based fixed furniture was also provided by Deanestor – shelving, cupboards, worktops and cabinets across the hospital campus.

Laboratory furniture was manufactured as part of Deanestor’s contract for areas including chromatography, blood transfusion, histopathology and microbiology. The Trespa benching was supported by powder-coated white steel frames with adjustable feet and was supplied in a range of sizes and perimeter, peninsular and island configurations. The benches had sinks, shelving and different worktop sizes to accommodate specialist equipment. The work surfaces were supplied with upstands, polished edges and radiused corners.

Deanestor had highly organised logistics for efficient deliveries to site, and its project management team required little intervention from the contractor.

Stephen Howie, Design Manager, NHS Dumfries and Galloway, said, “The bedhead IPS panel units manufactured by Deanestor have helped to create an ambiance within the patient bedrooms and have contributed to reducing the clinical feel of these rooms. The quality and robustness of benching and cabinetry stands out and gives confidence that we will have many years of problem-free usage with the products.”


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