Published: 24/03/2005, Volume II5, No. 5947 Page 5

What makes a good mental health hospital? We asked judges for the Building Better Healthcare Awards' mental health category to give some pointers

1 User and carer involvement is essential in any project. It should be instigated as early as possible through consultation at each stage of development, with full representation on all groups and committees.

2 Community pride - involve the local communities and the people for whom the services will be provided. Contact neighbourhood watch groups, local councillors, police and community groups. They can act as ambassadors for local service interests.

3 Staff involvement is equally essential, with representation from all levels and disciplines, including support staff. In the Building Better Healthcare Awards, good examples were those where support services, catering and facilities departments had had early representation and become equal partners on working parties.

4 Allow the plans to be flexible and evolve in line with consultation. Even the smallest changes can have a significant impact on the finished building. As the plans and the building grow, expectations will evolve. One new build had an extensive treatment suite planned but as the project developed, the services provided changed and the treatment suite was no longer required.

However other imperatives emerged, in this case the need for education of staff, other agencies and users and carers. The treatment suite was adapted to provide a training venue.

5 Natural light in as many areas as possible is key.

Think about the use of window seats, high windows or skylights. Excellent examples used light tubes in corridors, with windows and seating areas at the end of the corridors creating an oasis effect. High windows with coloured glass allows light in throughout the day and through all seasons.

Ensure senses are stimulated. How this can be achieved will depend on client needs. Colourcoded rooms and corridors help people to find their way around. Plants and herbs, particularly scented ones, change the way a building feels.

They can be placed indoors or outdoors and could include seasonal plants and flowers. Water features may also be used to good effect.

6 Large accessible outdoor spaces enhance facilities, particularly if they are accessible to all service users throughout their stay. Good hospitals include large gardens as well as smaller partitioned areas that offer privacy and quiet areas. Also worth considering are small internal courtyards that provide safe, private outdoor space.

7 The provision of flexible space enhances the care that can be provided. Rooms that can be easily changed in function allow greater use of the environment, particularly if service users determine the change in functionality.

One hospital visited provides an overnight relatives' room that can double as quiet space during the day for visitors, staff or service users.

8 The reception area is important; first impressions really do count. From all of the visits, several key ingredients for a successful reception were identified:

Comfy seating, particularly sofas, provides a feeling of a warm welcome akin to a hotel reception. This sets the scene for the remainder of the building.

Soft music ensures people waiting in the reception have privacy for their conversations.

Along with subtle decor, art and plants give an overall aura of calm.

An easily identifiable reception desk.

Appropriately displayed information about the building and services available, and a photo board of all the staff.

9 Effective design for storage space will have a significant effect on the main areas. Decide how much storage space is needed and double it in order to keep the building tidy.

10 Bedroom layout provides real opportunity to enhance personal space and privacy. Rooms with a view give a more spacious feel. It is important to plan the layout to let in as much natural light and fresh air as possible. The provision of en suite facilities is essential. In one hospital, art was incorporated into the bedrooms and a mosaic in each en suite bathroom; this gave each room a personal, homely feel.

11 Artwork is an important part of building design and planning should start at stage one.

However, there needs to be a balance between artworks developed along with the building and pieces that will be produced after the facility has opened. In one example, service users had made mosaic tiles that were built into the en suite bathrooms and were placed at the entrance to each ward area.

Deborah Wildgoose, Malcolm Rae, Jim Halliwell and Bill Williamson are all judges for the Building Better Healthcare Awards.

For a full version of this article e-mail malcolm@rae31. freeserve. co. uk