Transforming children’s hospital design on a global scale

Hospital illustration

Our research is improving the design of children's hospitals around the world, making them welcoming, comfortable and more child friendly.

The research team, which included Professor Penny Curtis, Dr Jo Birch and Professor Allison James - all affiliates of the University's Centre for the Study of Childhood and Youth - sought children’s opinions about spatial aspects of hospitals.

The team conducted interviews with 255 children aged between four and 16 about the physical and social characteristics of hospital spaces. These included the areas around their beds, treatment rooms, bathrooms, play rooms, corridors and shared spaces.

Professor Penny Curtis said: "The research emphasises the importance of working directly with children to ascertain their views and to work with these to develop spaces within which they feel comfortable. It points out that with respect to some aspects such as decoration, we as adults can easily get it wrong - despite our best intentions."

"The research also made very clear that while our hospitals create welcoming spaces for young children, children from middle childhood onwards find such spaces 'babyish' and thus not particularly welcoming or comforting."

In addition to decor, the team also researched the benefits of single cubicle occupancy compared with beds in a shared ward.

The findings have assisted healthcare professionals in the UK and Australia to make their facilities more child-friendly while also influencing the design practices of architects nationally and internationally

Professor Curtis said: "We found that while privacy was an important issue, other concerns arose in our research about single occupancy rooms in terms of informal monitoring. Many children and their parents felt that being in a private room made them feel they weren’t monitored as much as they would have been in a shared ward."

"We also discovered that parents tend to be conscious of nurses’ time and therefore they don’t always feel comfortable asking for help. In a shared ward parents felt that their children were constantly surveyed and were able to interact more with health workers, which eased this anxiety."

However, children also reported being concerned about their parents' comfort when they visited them in hospital. "Many children worry about their parents' experience of hospital and some said that a private room offered better facilities for them. Private rooms also give patients and their visitors more control of their own environment such as lighting and television viewing" said Professor Curtis.

The impact of these findings on the future of children's hospital design has been profound. They have assisted healthcare professionals in the UK and Australia to make their facilities more child-friendly while also influencing the design practices of architects nationally and internationally.

Professor Curtis said: "The research highlights the need to embed children’s perspectives throughout the entire design process - from architectural plans to decor. It also requires that hospital design recognises both the benefits and the drawbacks of single occupancy rooms, particularly at a time when these are prioritised in all new builds and internal reconfigurations."