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Deputy Chief Executive Mark Brandreth blogs on: ‘Everything you need to know about changes to how visitors find their way about the hospital…’

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How often do you find yourself walking down the main corridors at The Countess and helping patients and visitors who appear confused, lost and looking for some help with directions? For many of us working here, this happens on a daily basis. Patients arriving for a check-up, tests or an appointment can often be in a heightened state of anxiety or worry. So we all have a role to play in offering a reassuring smile, and supporting them in getting from A to B.

We don’t always make things easy for ourselves at the hospital. In fact the Trust currently has a number of different ‘way finding’ systems in place using colour zones, slats or signs placed with varying degrees of clarity - as well as a combination of names and non-sequential numbers for our wards that isn’t exactly helpful.

Over the last year we have started to see an increase in the grumbles and frustrations from visitors who have found it difficult to navigate the place. This year our public governors asked that ‘wayfinding’ was a priority area for the Trust to review with their support. It is a challenge for many hospitals, and a team of governors and estates leads have spent a number of months looking into best practice and identifying a way forward for The Countess.

It has been a huge undertaking. Some trusts have spent in excess of £100,000 on getting this right, whereas others have made an impact with as little as £5k. Here at The Countess we think we can make some positive changes spending much less money, given the current challenging financial climate in the NHS.

This month (August) will see the Chester hospital site pilot a new and very different approach. Governor Helen Clifton and estates leads Kevin Eccles and Alan Dunn have opted to trial a system inspired by the nearby Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital in Gobowen and thanks to input from NHS colleagues at Leighton and Wythenshawe hospitals.

It is based on the simple principle of a numbered junction system similar to what you might find on the motorway network. Instead The Countess ground floor and first floor corridors will be our ‘streets’ with each turning or sub-corridor being numbered and referenced by a circular yellow disc labelled G1, G2, G3 etc… for ground floor and F1, F2, F3 for first floor. It uses black print on a yellow background in keeping with best practice to help those who may be visually impaired.

Anyone who has visited Alan Dunn (see below) in the estates offices in recent weeks will have seen the samples. We’re hoping to see the discs going up on site next week (August 17).

 Blog- G1 image

The system is backed up by a Wayfinding Location Directory in clip frames that reference the locations of existing wards, or clinical departments that patients or visitors may be trying to find (see below). These will be located at all key entrance points and in stairwells and work alongside the existing ‘slats’ white on blue signage, which is still needed from the point a person exits the corridor ‘junction’.  When we currently make changes to the Trust layout, it can cost up to £40 per slat. With this new system, the junctions will be fixed and the costs for changing the clip frame posters minimal.

Way finding location directory

The changes will take place in three phases:

  • Phase I – Summer 2015: Yellow discs are installed at all junctions in the ground floor and first floor corridors of the main Chester hospital building (maternity not included in this test phase).
  • Phase II – Autumn 2015: The Trust will start a co-ordinated and phased approach on decluttering/cleansing and redecoration of ground and upper floor hospital streets and stairwells, so that the discs are clearer for visitors to see. This phase is expected to take up to three months. New policies will be introduced setting out how walls and notice boards are to be maintained to keep the corridors spotless. 
  • Phase III – Winter 2015-6: The final phase involves updating the existing site plan and process that will enable the Trust to tell every patient the right car park, the right entrance and the right junction from the outset. This is linked to a review of more than 1,500 appointment letter templates in use within the Trust. 

We’ve set out for a quick and cost effective fix, involving our governors and front desk volunteers. There is no doubt that the pilot will deliver some benefits for patients, but signs on their own are not the solution. This is a tough project. There is no doubt that everyone will have a view about it. On top of this everyone needs to know about it, understand it …. and help us to make this work for patients and visitors.

Look out for a sign, coming soon to a junction near you…

Blog- G1 V2

Best wishes - Mark

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