Dimensions research inspires first-of-its-kind toolkit to improve access to healthcare

The toolkit looks to support health centres adapt to the needs of people with disabilities, dementia, neurodiversity and anxiety.

The ‘Designing for Everyone’ kit forms part of the Dimensions #MyGPandMe health equality campaign.

Research from Dimensions, on improving health centre accessibility has formed the basis of a ground-breaking toolkit launched this week to help GP practices improve the design of their buildings and physical environment for people with disabilities and conditions, such as dementia, neurodiversity and anxiety.

The ‘Designing for Everyone’ kit was commissioned by primary care building specialists Assura and written by the Association for Dementia Studies (ADS) centre at the University of Worcester, one of the UK’s leading active dementia research and education centres built in partnership with the NHS Worcestershire, Worcestershire County Council and Dementia UK.

The Dimensions research (2019-20) that was used in the toolkit found that:

  • Just 22% of respondents feel independent in health centre environments
  • Less than half of respondents feel that toilet facilities in health centres meet their needs
  • Almost half of all respondents feel worried in health centre environments – with décor, lighting, noise levels and waiting room layout all highlighted as factors that affect how people feel
  • Increased training, awareness, skills and knowledge are needed to support people with disabilities in primary care environments

The suggestions and actions outlined in the toolkit can be used by GPs, practice managers, premises teams and patient groups to better understand how the design and layout of their health centre building works for people with a range of needs. This toolkit is the first integrated resource of its kind to focus specifically on how design principles can support people living with dementia, neurodiversity and conditions like anxiety and will play a vital part in improving patient experience, promoting engagement with health services and reducing inequality of access to care.

Building on expertise provided by the ADS, the toolkit is aligned with national dementia policy and to ADS’ values. It aims to help people with dementia live well in their homes and communities’ post-diagnosis and recognises the need for skilled care and dementia friendly person-centred design while drawing on research into best practice design for people living with dementia, neurodiversity and conditions like anxiety and earlier studies with Assura by Dimensions and the Patients Association. It will form part of Dimensions’ suite of training resources for general practice in its #MyGPAndMe campaign.

‘Designing for Everyone’ allows primary care teams to assess their buildings and patient environment on core design features, such as lighting and use of colour which apply to all aspects of a health centre building and on specific design features for particular areas, such as the need for adjustable lighting levels in consulting rooms. It also offers guidance on additional design issues to consider during a pandemic.

The kit also addresses some of the challenges raised in the government’s National Disability Strategy, which highlighted ‘visiting the GP surgery’ as a key issue for people living with disabilities, with over three-quarters experiencing some difficult accessing health services. A further 40% indicated that the pandemic had affected access to healthcare for non-coronavirus related issues, whereas just 19% of non-disabled people had encountered the same barrier.

Sarah Waller CBE, Association for Dementia Studies, said:

“Health centres are where the most patient contact in the NHS takes place. Designing for Everyone will enable the physical environment to be more supportive of all patients who attend clinics and will support staff in delivering high quality patient-centred care.”

Jonathan Murphy, CEO of Assura, said:

“Given everything we have all seen about the role of primary care in community health through the pandemic and its position front and centre of the NHS Long Term Plan, the places where we access face-to-face primary care must work for everyone.

“We cannot simply shrug our shoulders at the fact that the design of many older primary care buildings can be particularly difficult for people with disabilities, dementia and neurodiverse conditions – and can even impact on whether people who are most in need of local health services access them at all. Levelling up access to healthcare and reducing the impact of health inequalities is at the heart of the NHS’ vision, so creating healthcare facilities which are designed to serve everyone who uses them is fundamental for those patient experiences.”

Download the Designing for Everyone guide, summary assessment tool, and full assessment tool at: http://www.dimensions-uk.org/designingforeveryone