Transforming Community Healthcare Into an Undersea Adventure for Children

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Southern Health NHS is one of the largest trusts in the United Kingdom. We cover a huge range of services: from community, mental health, and specialised services, to minor injuries, surgeries, and x-rays.

As the Programme Manager, I'm responsible for the administration of the funding we use for all capital purchases. I also work with the estates team collaborating closely with our clinical colleagues about the challenges they face delivering clinical services. 

We look for ways to support the clinical teams in delivering better outcomes, and to improve our buildings and our estate to deliver more efficient and effective clinical services. We try to deliver the best value and quality. We see where innovation and development can support our services, while also ensuring we think creatively and seek a greater array of options and solutions. One such example was in our minor injuries children’s waiting area.

Minor Injuries, Many Children: Seeking a Soothing Solution

We have a minor injuries unit within our Petersfield Community Hospital location. It's very highly regarded by both the local community and also the hospital employees. The service was amazing, but we didn't have the facilities for a children's waiting room. The challenges in creating a children’s waiting area were all space-related: the unit was small and the surrounding infrastructure was very restricted. 

An ideal children’s waiting room would allow our young patients to sit comfortably amongst their own peer group, not cause a disturbance to others, and would provide a calming environment to reduce their anxiety. In turn, this would make their trip to the minor injuries unit a less traumatic experience.

Any options we suggested had to provide visibility to the staff, so they could keep an eye on waiting children, and it also needed to be separated from waiting adult patients. The problem was that hospital space was at a premium and we had no room to create this area. So we looked around the hospital and spotted an area that almost suited our needs, but missed the mark because it directly opened into a corridor. 

It had a great set of toys and plenty of child-appropriate seats—but the location was highly unfortunate. If we asked children to wait there, then they or their siblings could run up and down a  corridor and cause disturbance. There were also other people waiting nearby as part of the outpatient clinic. Seeing a child in distress might, in turn, cause them distress. 

We looked at several different plans to see how we could utilise this space to support waiting children and their parents in a suitable, secure waiting environment. 

Worth the Wait: The KwickScreen Experience 

We looked at a number of solutions, including whether we could actually create rooms within the environment. We discussed whether we could put up partition walls, but that would involve us changing the airflow in that area because of the configuration of the air handling. That solution would have been very costly. After considering a variety of options, we chose KwickScreen, which we had seen in trade magazines.

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We pitched the idea to our fire and infection control teams, who were thrilled with the solution. KwickScreen is fire retardant and can be cleaned with a multitude of different disinfectants and cleaning products depending on how they become contaminated. They also easily moved, and if the screens become damaged we can just zip out the screens themselves and replace the panels. 

The screens have been placed at right angles to each other, so they form their own room. Then, if an unwell child’s siblings accompany them on the trip to the unit, the screens help the parents easily contain the additional children. This is especially important since it can be difficult when parent needs to bring all their children with them when only one is unwell. The contained space means the children are less likely to run up and down the corridor because they have all their toys in one place and an interesting environment.

It also enables the children to feel as if they have their own space in a busy environment. The screens do well to cut down on noise, even if children shout or bang on the toys. They don't touch the floor or ceiling, but they do act as baffles, so you hear more happy background sound rather than full-on noise.

We wanted the area to still be usable by different people at different times, as well. Thankfully, KwickScreen can roll straight back into the wall. So if we have a big audiology or speech and language clinic, KwickScreen will allow us to make the children's waiting area larger or smaller based on how many children we have. 

The beauty of KwickScreen is that we attached them to the walls. We can then create a lovely little area for our children, but we can also unbolt them from the wall and move them to our new waiting area when we re-configure the hospital. There will be absolutely no loss of investment. It is a truly positive move for us.

Under the Sea

To help with the aesthetic of the environment, we printed designs on the screens with different pictures, both externally and internally. From the outside, the screens say Children's Waiting Area, and have our trust’s colours. But when you sit inside, you’re immersed in a big underwater adventure. 

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We produced some mock-ups with viewing windows so staff could observe the children through the screens as they walked by. We envisioned the design leaning more towards a fairy castle-playhouse theme. But once we showed the designs to the seven- and eight-year-olds and asked their opinion, they didn’t like our idea. They wanted an underwater theme with an octopus, shark, and clownfish (popularized by the children’s movie, Finding Nemo). They loved that idea.

Creating an underwater theme enabled us to have a large viewing area at the top, so when staff walked past they could still look inside and observe. It would also be helpful for the patients because people wouldn’t feel as if they've been forgotten or ignored—they could still see people's heads moving past. It wouldn’t give the impression they've been sequestered or secluded. For the children, the underwater theme would create an adventure. 

Our initial KwickScreen art design choice was a case where we were proven categorically wrong. That was fantastic because it enabled us to involve the community in decisions about their own community hospital. In addition to the children’s focus group, we put up some pictures of the different screen ideas and asked the children who visited the hospital to leave their comments. Receiving a wide range of views helped us finalise the design. It’s worked out so well because we listened to our patients and the community we serve in order to give them the best possible healthcare experience. 


Promoting Patience in Our Youngest Patients

From the feedback we’ve gathered, the children love being in the new waiting area. And parents feel satisfied that the waiting room is appropriate for their little ones, instead of sitting in a large, impersonal, waiting room with everyone else. 

Parents don’t have to worry about their child making noise and causing a disturbance. They feel like they have somewhere special where they can wait. And with the viewing screens at the top, they can call upon the staff they see walking by if they have any concerns about their child. They’re literally steps away from a member of staff.

The staff who have used KwickScreen think they're brilliant. They love that the children are nearby and the staff can check on their patients more quickly and easily. 

Staff can be observed walking by the KwickScreen waiting room and nodding or waving to the adults, reassuring them that they’re not forgotten. It allows adults to feel they're in an area that's suitable for their children, while still being a part of the hospital. People want to feel respected, that was our aim with this project, and we believe we've achieved that.

Community Healthcare Starts with Improving Patient Experiences 

KwickScreen allows us to efficiently use a multipurpose space without compromising fire regulations, infection control, or ventilation, while enriching the environment for our children. KwickScreen has, for a comparatively small capital outlay, made a huge difference. Our League of Friends within the hospital actually donated in support of the project because they could see the benefit of it. They were pleased that we had come up with an innovative solution to improve the children's waiting facilities.

With this project, we've lost no space while saving thousands of pounds in the hospital reconfiguration budget. We might not need that space all day every day, but when we need it, we can provide it.

For us at Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, this scheme has highlighted how innovative solutions—and some direct feedback from children—can truly deliver outstanding results. What started as a challenge to build a children’s waiting area transformed into a creative, flexible use of space and intelligent use of funds to deliver an exceptional patient experience. And, to us, we believe that’s what effective and meaningful community healthcare is all about.