DeepDive: Creating sustainable workplaces for healthcare professionals

Staff are the most important resource in healthcare, at the same time, the task of attracting, recruiting, and retaining skilled healthcare professionals is a global challenge. A sustainable and attractive working environment is a critical part of the solution. Starting from the perspective and needs of staff is therefore an essential part of designing healthcare environments. We sat down with Robert Heuschkel, Consultant Paediatric Gastroenterologist and CUH Clinical Director for Cambridge Children’s Hospital, to find out more about the challenges faced by healthcare professionals and how the design of healthcare environments can help to address them.

Robert Heuschkel is Consultant Paediatric Gastroenterologist and CUH Clinical Director for the new Cambridge Children’s Hospital, which we are designing in collaboration with Hawkins\Brown, alongside MJ Medical and Ramboll UK.

– The best hospital is the one that is not needed. As healthcare professionals, we want to minimise the amount of time children spend in hospitals and the goal is that they don’t have to stay long, says Robert Heuschkel.

Robert Heuschkel points out that the experience of patients and relatives during the hospital stay is most important, but for a well-functioning and sustainable healthcare environment it is also crucial that the needs and wishes of staff are listened to.

Staff are the ones who stay the longest in a hospital, so it is important not to deprioritise costs and spaces that benefit them.
Robert Heuschkel, Consultant Paediatric Gastroenterologist and CUH Clinical Director for Cambridge Children’s Hospital

Pride and identity
The design of healthcare environments affects how well staff are able to provide high quality care. According to Robert Heuschkel, this is less likely to be the case in an old and worn-out building than in facilities that are adapted to today’s challenges and needs. Ensuring high-quality care requires that healthcare environments are safe, designed for infection control and future pandemics, among other things. They also need to be easy to navigate and easy to manage and operate. However, Robert Heuschkel believes that it is not only the quality of care that is affected by the design, but good design also allows staff to take pride in their work and the organisation.

– It’s about identity and feeling proud of the environment in which you work. You want to be associated with something beautiful and of high quality, says Robert Heuschkel.

There are now more cases of healthcare workers striking for higher pay, and pay is of course an important aspect of work. However, I believe that the environment in which you work is at least as important, making you feel appreciated and valued at work, which in turn can greatly influence the quality of your work and your performance.
Robert Heuschkel

So how important is the design of the working environment for healthcare workers? Vital according to Robert Heuschkel.

– I think it is vital, so there is no alternative but to provide the best possible (but affordable) design for both staff and patients. Staff are the biggest asset and the essential service provider in a hospital. In order to recruit and retain staff, we need to understand their needs and prioritise these. In this day and age, this requires state-of-the-art design that is modern, but warm and welcoming, focuses on health and rest, and includes spaces where staff can interact with and find support from each other, says Robert Heuschkel.

To ensure that the perspectives and needs of both staff and patients are included in the design of the new Cambridge Children’s Hospital, we have engaged with healthcare professionals, as well as with children, parents and carers. The influence of staff has also been captured through holding staff reference groups and sharing our vision through newsletters and feedback sessions. Cambridge Children’s Hospital has also been in contact with healthcare staff at many of the 16 hospitals in the region, as well as many patients and families from across the East of England, all to ensure that this regional hospital engages with people from all over the region.

Natural ways to interact
An important aspect of creating attractive workplaces, according to Robert Heuschkel, is providing spaces for natural interaction between staff, as well as between staff, researchers and patients. By designing places where different departments and activities are brought together, it is possible to encourage collaboration and to promote the exchange of knowledge between healthcare professionals, researchers, and patients, while enabling increased contact between patients to help create a sense of community.

Staff have to interact with each other as well as with patients. By bringing different cultures together, we can learn from each other, but this requires natural spaces to meet, such as shared rest areas, changing rooms and cafes.
Robert Heuschkel

Cambridge Children’s Hospital is the first children’s hospital in the world to be designed for integrated physical and mental healthcare; bringing children, their families, clinicians, and researchers together in one place to foster collaboration and innovation. The design supports a new model of integration where staff and patients from typically separate physical and mental healthcare areas share an ‘integrated’ ward. Not only does this improve care for the whole child, but allows sharing of resources, creates greater operational efficiencies, and encourages knowledge sharing between staff. It also aims to reduce the stigma and isolation associated with mental health by normalizing contact between patients of all types. Staff and patients, currently spread across several distant locations, will come together in a single shared building.

Increased need for rest
Rest and recovery are key factors for a sustainable working life and for the well-being and performance of staff. Not least for healthcare professionals who have physically and emotionally demanding roles. According to Robert Heuschkel, this is also something that is becoming increasingly important in today’s working environment.

– Today, more and more employees are working in shifts, which means that the importance and need for breaks and recovery increases, as well as the opportunity to take a breath of fresh air, says Robert Heuschkel.

At Cambridge Children’s Hospital, we have used our humanistic and evidence-based design in combination with the healing architecture approach, based on the knowledge that high-quality architecture with benefits such as daylight, places to rest and access to outdoor environments increase the well-being of patients, parents and carers, as well as staff. Greenery contributes to people’s well-being while creating relaxing environments. At the children’s hospital, outdoor spaces on every floor of the building are accessible throughout the year. The hospital’s large courtyard, as well as the smaller courtyards inside the wards, provide opportunities for staff, patients, and families to take a breath of fresh air individually or with colleagues.

Read more about Cambridge Children’s Hospital here.

Contact person

Cristiana Caira

Cristiana Caira



+46 31 60 87 77

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