Enhancing medical care through design at Royal United Hospitals, Bath
For ten years, the James Dyson Foundation has supported advancing medical care at the Royal United Hospitals Bath (RUH). Contributing nearly £5m to the hospital since 2010 in the form of donations, design work and research. It has helped develop pioneering neonatal, and soon-to-be, cancer treatment facilities for the South West of England.
James and Deirdre Dyson have a longstanding connection to the Royal United Hospitals Bath (RUH) having welcomed two of their children, Jake and Sam, at the hospital, and the James Dyson Foundation has supported the hospital over the past ten years.
The Dyson Centre for Neonatal Care opened in July 2011 with the aim of creating a healthier environment for babies, parents and staff through the intelligent use of design and architecture. As the Centre celebrates its ten-year anniversary, the hospital is breaking ground for the new Dyson Cancer Centre, which will open in 2024.
“The Dyson Centre for Neonatal Care demonstrated the very significant effect that design and architecture can have on the recovery of patients. The bright, well designed spaces quickly proved their value to babies, something that we hope to replicate at the new Dyson Cancer Centre. Cancer is the most terrible of diseases, but by bringing cutting edge technology, design features, natural light and therapeutic green spaces, we hope this new building will support patients, families and staff through harrowing times.”
- Sir James Dyson, Founder and Chief Engineer at Dyson.
The Dyson Centre for Neonatal Care leads the way in improving quality of life for sick and premature babies. Designed by local architects Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios it now cares for 500 babies annually.
The building has a progressive layout. A clockwise circuit of cot rooms, starting with intensive care, leading to special care and finally home; this creates a psychological effect of progress. The collection of care rooms also forms a route around the staff base, which is the heart of the unit, so staff spend more time in the care environment. Square box windows provide reflective spaces, whilst improved layouts allow medical facilities to be stored discreetly, improving the Unit’s atmosphere. The exposed internal timber also creates a more calm, domestic environment within a clinical setting.
Large windows give controllable natural light throughout, allowing babies, parents and staff to be aware of changing outside conditions. This careful light management ensures babies understand day and night, vital for circadian rhythm development boosting immune systems, metabolic functions, mood and cognitive roles.
Revolutionary research, funded by a £100,000 donation from the James Dyson Foundation, was carried out when the Unit opened, comparing the old building with the new. Of the babies assessed, 90% recuperating in the new Unit went home breast feeding, compared to 64% in the former pre-natal building. The study also showed that babies were better rested – sleeping on average for 22% longer than in the old unit.
Dr Bernie Marden, Medical Director at RUH, was formally a consultant neonatologist and paediatrician involved in the Unit’s research.
“We collated vast amounts of data using new techniques to build up a really accurate picture of how babies respond to their environment. We found that the design of the building led to better fed and better rested babies, contributing to their recuperation.”
- Dr Bernie Marden, Medical Director at RUH.
Accelerometers were used in a world first to measure respiratory and sleep patterns in babies. An extremely low power, self-contained wireless device monitored their reaction to the new environment. The studied babies were found to be asleep or in a restful state for longer than in the old building.
Infrared tracking technology followed staff movements and tested the efficiency of the design. The study found that nurses in the new building spent 20% more of their time in the clinical rooms, caring for the babies.
Lux meters showed up to 50% more natural light was measured in the new building, ensuring a more natural circadian rhythm – allowing the babies, parents and staff to perceive the changing day, aiding the babies sleeping and eating habits. Noise levels decreased by over 9dB on average from those in the old building too.
Since opening, the Unit has won multiple global awards. Most notably, it’s been recognised by the Royal Institute of British Architects, Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, International Academy for Health & Design and Better Healthcare Building awards, and has a BREEAM ‘Excellent’ certificate.
"We will forever be grateful to all the Dyson Centre for Neonatal Care staff. If it wasn’t for these superheroes, our boys and I simply wouldn’t be here today."
Mum of twin boys, Taya, was born at the hospital’s original NICU 32 years ago. Thanks to the care of RUH staff in 1989, Taya has been able to start her own family with husband Joel, and her twin boys Harvey and Charlie were born earlier this year.
However, issues during Taya’s pregnancy meant that the boys were born prematurely and needed support in the Dyson Centre for Neonatal Care. Weighing only 3 and 2.5 pounds, the family spent 10 weeks in NICU watching their boys develop and grow in strength.
Whilst on the Unit, the family were involved in their children’s care from the very beginning. Learning kangaroo care, feeding and baby-safe CPR. The Centre has accommodation, allowing parents to live onsite to aid the transition and reassure that their children are in safe hands.
“The care provided in the Dyson Centre for Neonatal Care is unique – it’s a very special place. It was a rollercoaster of emotions, and we owe so much to the team for looking after our whole family so well and for sending us home safely.” Taya.
Following the success of the neonatal unit, the James Dyson Foundation donated £4million towards a pioneering new Cancer Centre: the Dyson Cancer Centre. The donation is the largest in the hospital’s history.
It will follow the same approach of considered architectural, design and medical decisions that were taken when building the neonatal unit to significantly improve patient experience, reduce stress and improve clinical outcomes. There is an emphasis on natural light to give bright, spacious interiors, and removing sources of noise to provide a more relaxing environment.
It will also provide space for relatives and carers to stay overnight. Inpatient rooms will be at the top of the building so that patients have the best views over the surrounding countryside. There will be flexible spaces to reflect, or to have private conversations.
“It’s fantastic to see work get underway on this truly special building, which will make such a difference for our community. We’ve worked closely with patients, staff and those with an interest in cancer services to design the Dyson Cancer Centre. It will be a nurturing and therapeutic environment where our staff can continue to provide the highest quality care, and our patients and their loved ones can receive all the support they need in one purposed designed building.”
- Cara Charles-Barks, CEO for RUH
Set to open in Spring 2024, the Dyson Cancer Centre will be the cancer services hub for half a million people in the South West. In March 2022, a ‘topping out’ ceremony was held to mark the completion of the frame of the building and the highest point of the structure.
Learn more about the work of the James Dyson Foundation here.