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Lighting for Healthcare

This sector spends $8.3 billion on lights and growing at over 6% per year (*).

1.5 million of us were admitted to an NHS hospital in England between July and September last year (source). And over 418,000 of our elderly relatives live in residential care (source).

Hospitals and residential care homes are workplaces too…

The NHS is one of the biggest employers in the world with 1.3 million full time employees NHS (source). Another 1.2 million work in adult social care for private providers (source).

These are some of the most dangerous and lowest-paid jobs in our society. Around 578,000 nurses and care workers worked night shifts in 2018 (*). Health workers on night shifts are seven times more likely to develop severe COVID-19.

Nurses who work nights for just five years are 8% more likely to develop cancer (source). And yet the average hourly pay for a care worker is below the basic rate in most UK supermarkets (source).

The built environment, including lighting can make the world of difference…

not only to patients, but to the recruitment, motivation and performance of the remarkable teams who take care of them (source).

It could help to save money too – lighting burns around 16% of a hospital’s electricity bill (* *).

We’re all familiar with the health benefits of daylight and views. But most patients can’t choose their bed. And most staff don’t find time for more than a cup of tea on their 12 hour shifts, let alone go outside for some sunshine (*).

Lighting just might help patients and staff to thrive

Infants exposed to cycled (bright day / dark night) light in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) were on average 500 g heavier than those exposed to continuous light 3 months after discharge (*). Exposure to cycled light in the NICU reduced fussing and crying 24 h after discharge to home compared to exposure to constant near-darkness (*)

At the other end of the spectrum, adjustments to lighting was one of the most common practices used by end-of-life care nurses (*). Simply being able to dim the lights near your bed can give you a sense of control and help you to relax and recover in an incredibly stressful environment (*).

The structures that regulate the sleep-wake pattern become smaller as the disease progresses. The signalling pathways grow weaker too (*).

The current basic light levels of around 300 lux may not be enough to trigger the alerting response – the EN12464-1 standard for offices recommends between 500 and 1,000 lux. Equally, it rarely gets dark at night in hospital, particularly in an acute care ward. Research in mice suggests that the light levels ‘equivalent to a child’s night light around 2 meters away from your face’ can induce depression after just three nights.

This level of exposure changes the way the blood moves around the brain, which can even affect a patients’ ability to recover from stroke (*).

Dr James Greenberg, Clinical Director of the Neonatal Unit at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Ed Russell, Chief Executive of WCS, a Residential Care Home Trust are two examples of innovative healthcare providers who are passionate about the benefits of investing in lighting. In these interviews, they explain how that investment above and beyond the legal minimum is paying off for their patients – and for the bottom line as they attract clients and research funding – and improve staff retention and morale (* *).

To quote the celebrated Florence Nightingale, who gave her name to the Nightingale ward design (*) characterised by large windows…

‘Little as we know about the way in which we are affected by form, by colour, and light, we do know this—that they have an actual physical effect…’ (*)

It’s tempting to wring our hands – and pay for private healthcare when we can. And of course, the lighting is not going to be a silver bullet.

But as I hope I’ve shown, each of us, especially in the lighting sector, can make a difference by demanding a decent environment for those who are most vulnerable and those who take care of them. And reminding our clients and colleagues who may be tempted to shop on price, that those lives are priceless – and one day soon, it might just be ours on the line.

Please join me and my guests – an amazing team including Arup, BDP, C20 Target, Cundall, Morgan Sindell, Muse Developments and the VP for the Lighting concept at the WELL standard to discuss those drivers – and how we can all be drivers for change. 9 December online

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