The beneficial effects of colour, art and nature in speeding hospital patients’ recovery were the themes of a recent presentation by Dr Tom Best Director of Critical Care at King’s College Hospital held at Dulwich Picture Gallery.

Dr Best observed that the recovery time in a critical centre was often determined by a patient’s experience of disorientation leading to stress which delays recovery. Waking up in critical care can be a frightening experience. Disorientation can be caused by a patient being in an unfamiliar environment, often sedated and surrounded by a mass of medical paraphernalia, wires and screens and the sounds of alarms and bleeps. By necessity, critical care is also a very busy place with constant intrusion on the patient. 80% of critical care patients experience delirium, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) anxiety or depression. What is aimed for are benefits which will reduce the stress by making the patient calm.

Although not a new development; the power of different colours to influence the brain’s response has been noted since the late 1940’s and the use of colour in medical facilities has been employed for some years. The new Kings Critical Care Centre is using the power of some of the colours taken from the artist J M W Turner’s palette to lower anxiety levels on a number of the Centre’s work and equipment surfaces.

The stimulation of the brain though the display of art, especially naturel scenes with trees is more recent and will also be employed. Kings however is going one step further, by bringing nature closer to recovering patients. All three methods will be employed - the use of different colours on doors, some surfaces and equipment, artworks on the walls inspired by the trees in Ruskin Park, and bringing the outdoors inside.

This is made possible by incorporating floor to ceiling windows in the design of the new unit, admitting fresh air, light and views of the trees in neighbouring Ruskin Park from the unit’s high vantage point on top of the eleven storied building. On the roof is a helicopter pad where emergency patients will be delivered. It will share space with a projected roof garden for which a £1.6million appeal has been launched.

Former patients have been interviewed for their experience in critical care and some expressed the desire to see around them. This has been taken into account, both with the windows but also the beds which can be rotated though 360 degrees allowing patients to look around. Each bed will be surrounded by a smart-glass panel which patients can turn clear, cloudy or opaque allowing either privacy or to see what’s happening in the Centre. Each patient will also be given a Skype tablet to keep in touch with loved ones.

The new Critical Care unit which will be able to treat up to 120 patients, thus doubling e existing number of beds. Costing £100 million the first stage of the unit is expected to open in the Spring of 2020, some two years later than planned. Kings has a treatment catchment population in the south east of England of 5 million people and treats 5000 patients annually in its critical care unit.

Last year the hospital received patients from the Westminster Bridge and Borough Market terrorist attacks and the Grenfell tower fire. The hospital cared for 32 patients, 15 or whom were looked after in critical care.