Parley, Martin

Martin Parley reviews an in-house refurb that made an x-ray unit in Southampton much more child-friendly.

Walking into the new children’s x-ray area at Southampton General hospital is like entering a child’s world rather than “an adult’s world for children,” in the words of the trust’s in-house project designer Mark Maffy. On entering the department the vibrant colours instantly strike you as does intriguing artwork – scattered around so that the area resembles a children’s play area after playtime.

When Maffy moved to Southampton General Hospital two years ago there was already a big project being undertaken to move the orthopaedic department to Southampton Royal Hospital. Yet they weren’t able to take the children’s x-ray caseload, so the general hospital agreed to, because it had the space required in its existing children’s x-ray department. After engaging the clinical services director to do a feasibility study with two of the trust’s in-house architects, Maffy completed the project design. With many interested parties, such as cleaners and security, it was sent back and forth before being signed off by the department so they could appoint external consultants and project management.

On inspection Maffy says the old layout was not accommodating for children: “After going through the door past some offices you came to reception, which had a very high counter – immediately excluding small children.” He goes on to say that the radiologists would stand chatting to receptionists here due to a lack of staff facilities: “there was nowhere else for them to go, and getting attention was not easy when users were faced with a wall of people’s backs.”

There was a waiting area adjacent to reception which had toys lying on the floor, says Mafty. It housed changing cubicles which gave the patients little privacy-some of the users are 16-year-old girls, and with the curtains barely touching the floor this was obviously not satisfactory. The previous design caused the radiographers difficulties too because not all the x-ray rooms had viewing facilities, leading to time wasted travelling to rooms with viewing boxes.

Meeting the goals of the interior design project was a tall order with the limited space Maffy had to work with. It needed good planning to make it work. “Some of the walls are obviously immovable and when redesigning there is the domino effect meaning other areas have to be redesigned too,” says Maffy.

However as a result of careful design, decreasing the size of x-ray rooms and consultant offices created an additional x-ray room. The waiting area was moved next to the front doors along with the changing facilities, separated by a glass brick partition for privacy (see main pic). With the waiting area now closer to reception it is easier for parents to keep an eye on their children if they need to enquire at reception. A spacious corridor was achieved, allowing easy access to all areas including the viewing and reporting rooms. A staff room was also included to stop congestion by reception. This planning challenge required Maffy to keep firm control over the project to ensure every part of the design was realised.


With the architectural side taken care of, decoration was the next important aspect to tackle. This is usually passed on to the architect, but again Maffy had a clear idea of what would work, and so took the lead role in the interior design. Maffy says he told the architect that after the plan, designed by the department, was produced, the architect was instructed to specify things like door protection and flooring. Maffy specified colours, based on the trust’s list of available varieties.

He also gives the example of the glass blocks used in the waiting area, which he specified to allow more lighting and give the impression of greater space. “It also gives a greater visual impact – I wanted to keep control over that.”

As with most waiting rooms, it was very bland with some old toys lying around and adult chairs arranged in a horseshoe shape – this can be intimidating for children, says Maffy. “I wanted to make it like walking into a kid’s world, with chairs scattered around in a random fashion.”

He needed smaller chairs for the children along with the adult ones so he rang the suppliers direct. “They gave me a selection to choose from because I have to adhere to safety regulations such as smoke and fire issues. We have a finite list; I couldn’t just go to lkea and use theirs.”

Due to the limited nature of the list of suppliers sanctioned for use within the hospital, he says he had to work hard to keep his vision on track and not compromise the interior design. To avoid the normal awkward ‘staring across the waiting room syndrome’ he provided the distraction of toys mounted on the walls with chairs facing them, allowing children to play with them. “I wouldn’t say it worked 100% but the ‘activity walls’ do keep them occupied,” he says.

The x-ray viewing problem gave birth to the idea of using the viewers as part of the décor. “Radiographers like x-raying inanimate objects, so we agreed for them to supply the artwork.” Spare viewers, plus some “cheap” new viewers were thus stripped down, painted and put on the walls displaying x-rays of hammers and other tools.

The room colours and toys were a little more problematic in terms of identifying what was appropriate, because children of all ages up to 16 are treated in the department. As Maffy says: “It was a classic case of ‘we can’t have Noddy because that is no good for older kids, so where do we pitch it?'”

The majority of the children are between four and seven years old but the previous room’s style was dated, with Wind in the Willows murals on the walls. Using colours to distinguish the rooms provides a good point of reference for patients, so each room is designated a colour, running from walls through to signage, door protection, and floor design. The x-ray rooms themselves were not part of Maffy’s design due to the supplier’s ‘turnkey’ project providing decoration as well as the equipment.

Maffy says radiography staff were encouraged to get involved, and in fact asked to bring in toys to distract the kids. He says: “So we had Kermit the frog and dinosaurs in the green room, which isn’t age-specific.” Both aiding wayfinding and interest for users, a floor pattern that looks like spilt paint, albeit in corresponding colours to the palette chosen for the department, helps lead users to the rooms. Indeed a ‘palette’ is painted on the floor detailing which colour leads to which room. Complementing this idea, some of the wall-mounted Viewers’ are designed to look like paint pots.

The project cost £522,000 from the hospital’s capital budget but it has created a lively environment for the young patients. One of the few problems encountered was caused by the cash machine located on the outside wall of the department and connected to its electrical circuits, which caused one or two security alerts during the redevelopment.

Copyright Wilmington Publishing Ltd. Oct 2005

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