Learnings from Sweden on designing for staff wellbeing

Without its staff, the NHS cannot function. The ‘triple whammy’ of Brexit, COVID, and over a decade of austerity, are placing even more pressure on an over-stretched healthcare system, raising more concerns about staff wellbeing. Sophie Crocker, Architect at White Arkitekter, discusses how healthcare workplace design can contribute to staff wellbeing with four examples from the Scandinavian practice’s work in Sweden.

The hospital environment is not often considered in terms of its impact on staff wellbeing. Most staff support policies are associated with mental health, flexible work, food provision, and protected breaks, rather than the work environment itself. However, there is a correlation between staff stress and satisfaction and patient satisfaction — if staff satisfaction is high, then patient satisfaction will also be higher; if staff are unhappy, patients are unhappy.

Current staff space provision across the NHS is generally poor. Facilities are institutional, uncomfortable, and frequently over-occupied (consider that the NHS full-time staff count has increased by 92,000 since July 2019, while staff areas have not increased, and administrative spaces are frequently repurposed for additional clinical requirements). Typically, the priorities are functionality and durability over comfort and respite.

At a time when NHS staff have never been more dissatisfied, and with over 40,000 nursing vacancies to fill, it is essential that Trusts up and down the country consider the role and impact of the built environment on the workforce. Estates managers, Capital Projects directors, architects, and designers need to work together to implement powerful interventions. Wholesale redesign is not always required — there may be small interventions that can have a big impact.

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