Does hospital lighting need a re-think?

Does hospital lighting need a re-think?

Rays of light in the corridor of the hospital.

Hospitals are fast-paced and often stressful environments for those who work there, as well as for patients and visitors. In the current climate, when our incredible medical profession – from the cleaners to the surgeons – are under pressure to perform above and beyond the call of duty, the speed with which they have had to react is quite amazing and our respect and support goes out to them.

The role that lighting plays in these spaces is predominantly functional to service the different spaces – from operating theatres, to wards, to waiting rooms. However, does focusing on the functional mean that other benefits of lighting have been overlooked in the design process?

A design brief for a hospital lighting scheme could be summarised as follows:

It must enable the performance of visual tasks by hospital staff, from examination to night-time observation.

Yet, we would argue that a carefully considered lighting scheme can also enhance the well-being of staff and patients and contribute to an overall ambience of comfort, safety and reassurance for visitors. This is where circadian lighting comes in.

Circadian lighting attempts to replicate the ‘sunrise to sunset’ of our days, moving through the light levels and from a warm spectrum (2700k yellow light) to cool spectrum (6500k blue light) and back again. The light source can mimic the sleep-wake circadian rhythm of the human body, and has been proven to reduce fatigue and depression and enhance sleep and well-being. In a hospital environment, this could ultimately improve the working environment and increase the safety of the staff on the whole.

With patients, creating the correct ambience with lighting in a ward can affect the mood and enable critical chemical reactions in the body which increase recovery time, given the right environment. Tunable white LED lighting has the ability to mimic the daily circadian rhythm and there are studies that claim dementia sufferers react well to this style of lighting.

In the same way, providing patients with access to natural daylight has proven to reduce the time patients stay in hospital, having a positive impact on the turnaround of beds. Florence Nightingale famously demanded that new hospitals should be constructed with floor to ceiling windows to allow maximum daylight in and, more importantly, the wards were to face south and the rear north. Nightingale went on to prove that patients with beds that had south-facing windows recovered quicker than others.

Additionally, the ability to control lighting scenes at the push of a button increases convenience for both patients and staff alike. This would be especially true of patients who could control the light in their immediate vicinity directly from their bed. The other benefits to using LED lighting in a healthcare environment includes the reduction in energy consumption of the hospital.

With hospitals under more pressure than ever, arguably the design of these spaces needs to work harder than ever. So we ask the question: should the lighting of these environments be more of a priority going forwards?