Salford Royal Hope building: a hospital that looks like a design hotel/art gallery

Salford Royal NHS foundation trust makes damaging fewer of its patients its priority (in other words, it aims to be safest trust in the NHS). But when visiting last week for the day job, I noted that ‘having a hospital that looks like a design hotel or art gallery’ had also been added to the to-do list.

Interviewing trust IT bosses for EHI Intelligence means visiting a lot of NHS hospitals. While special places in many ways, they tend to look functional rather than beautiful. As previously discussed, the new Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham is gleaming and full of light, like a really nice shopping mall. But while I knew Salford Royal was proud of its new Hope building – which was a construction site when I last visited two years ago (it opened in autumn 2011) – I wasn’t expecting it to be cool.

But it is. The main atrium was full of light, despite last week’s drizzly sky (not entirely unknown in Greater Manchester), and full of art – large framed prints and a colourful installation of blocks of colour on a three-storey internal wall. Setting the tone, the shops included the usual branch of Smiths (WH, not The), but also an M&S Simply Food. When I saw a sign simply saying EAU, the ambience led me to expect a bottled water boutique. (It’s the Emergency Assessment Unit.) The café was also kitted out in the building’s cool palette of off-white, charcoal, lime green, magenta, cyan and navy blue, including the menus and the translucent seats. Yet a mug of tea still only cost £1.20. (That’s the North at its best – achingly hip and still great value for money. OK, maybe not ‘achingly hip’ in a hospital. Nicely designed.)

It helps that the Hope building doesn’t appear to be that big from its atrium – although this is an illusion, see this aerial shot – making it less overwhelming than some new hospital buildings. It’s just one part of the trust site (the Mayo building, which is only slightly older, is similarly attractive inside and out, but there are also plenty of older buildings). However, the design thoughtfulness extends outside as well, with covered walkways that allow patients, staff and visitors to walk through gardens between buildings without being too exposed to the Mancunian elements. The tops of the walkway covers have plants growing in them, supplementing the gardens.

Making NHS hospitals beautiful may sound like an indulgence for a hard-pressed health service, but I disagree. Hospitals are the secular equivalents of cathedrals, places of birth, disaster, healing and death. Like (most) cathedrals, the buildings should aim to provide uplift and solace to those within them.

I’m not aware of specific research, but it would not be surprising if those treated in beautiful hospital buildings recovered faster than those receiving equivalent care in ugly ones. Perhaps Salford Royal’s Hope building is another way the trust tries to keep its patients safe.

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