Bespoke Mitford Unit praised for its ‘clever’ design

A North East NHS centre designed specifically to support adults with autism has been praised by European experts for its “clever” and “innovative” design.

The Mitford Unit at Northgate Hospital, Morpeth, opened to patients in November 2016. It followed years of painstaking research and development to make it as welcoming as possible for adults living with autism should they need inpatient support.

The unit, a new home for an existing service, provides timely mental health support for adults with autism should they need inpatient care, with a strong focus on working with families and carers to get people back home as soon as possible.

The bespoke design of the building, run by Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation trust (NTW), and its attention to detail have now been highly commended in the European Healthcare Design Awards.

Mitford took home a Highly Commended in two categories, Mental Health Design and Design for Health and Wellbeing.

NTW clinical nurse manager Sheree McCartney said: “It’s crucial to make anyone’s time in hospital as comfortable as possible. For adults living with autism, service users and their families shared their expertise about useful and important things we could do to make Mitford the best it could be.

“We’re so pleased to see the hard work of so many of our staff, service users, families and partners honoured in this way.

“We work closely with individuals and their families so people can get back home to loved ones as quickly as possible. That said, the time that they do stay with us Mitford is and always will be shaped, just as the building is, by their expertise and knowledge.”

NHS staff, service users, families and Medical Architecture all worked in partnership to design the centre. The building incorporates a range of elements to make it as welcoming as possible and to reduce anxiety for adults living with autism.

Specialist features at Mitford include:

  • Technology that enables patients to use Skype so they can be brought into meetings about their care, even if they are unable to attend in person.
  • Curved walls and seating areas throughout to help people move about the unit with ease.
  • Doors and cupboards that can be hidden into walls to create smooth lines and reduce anxiety.
  • Precise temperature and lighting controls for each living area to adjust the environment depending on patients’ needs.
  • Sound-proofing throughout the unit to help reduce noise sensitivity.
  • High ceilings and windows to maximize natural light.

Medical Architecture director, Paul Yeomans, said: “The standard of entries at the European Healthcare Design Awards was incredibly high this year.

“The attention-to-detail in the design of Mitford was only possible thanks to the priceless guidance from service users, their families, and NHS staff.

“We are delighted to have played a role in creating such a special place and these awards are the cherry on top to acknowledge the dedication of so many different partners in making this a reality.”

The awards jury said: ““Mitford Adult Autism Unit represents an innovative and positive approach to the care, treatment and rehabilitation of this often-neglected group. The design demonstrates a sensitive understanding of the significant influence of the physical environment on those with autism, creating a series of flexible spaces that allow staff to respond to the varied needs of individual patients.

“The design has succeeded in creating a sense of calm, privacy, protection and normal living. These attributes are important in the care of this group of patients and have been achieved through an extremely clever and simple yet elegant layout which also provides for reassuringly clear orientation and way-finding. Perhaps the greatest success is that the design of this ground-breaking project has created a real sense of home for the users, that will undoubtedly prove beneficial to their treatment but yet is rarely so excellently achieved.”