Renal Ward, Royal London Hospital

The Renal Unit at the Royal London Hospital is densely populated and while its design is functional, it does not contribute to an engaging patient experience.

The team wanted to explore ways of improving this micro-locality through activities and design interventions that enrich patients’ experience of being in hospital, creating a positive environment and a sense of place and community.

Rachel Louis from Vital Arts, the arts and health organisation that delivers programmes for the Barts Health NHS Trust, collaborated with the Spatial Practices programme at CSM (communications designer Luise Vormittag) to establish a framework for future art and design interventions for dialysis patients at The Royal London Hospital.

Patients whose kidneys are failing are treated with dialysis, a machine that filters their blood. Dialysis takes five hours a day, three times a week.

Vital Arts and Central Saint Martins were awarded a collaborative research grant from Creative Works London to determine what kind of design intervention would improve patient experience on the ward. 

Patients on dialysis have a very restricted diet, which makes it difficult to prepare flavoursome meals. Non-white ethnic groups have a higher risk of developing kidney failure, and yet there are no recipe books available that reflect culinary and cultural diversity.

One of the pilot projects emerging from this research period was a set of recipe cards. The sample cards are based on recipes sourced from the patient community on the ward. The project team found that patients at The Royal London - a culturally diverse group - hold a wealth of tacit knowledge relating to their restricted diet, as do the dieticians working on the ward. 

Central Saint Martins continues to work with Vital Arts to develop the concept into a book and developing a communication methodology to collect, organise and distribute the tacit and dispersed dietary knowledge of this heterogeneous group. Apart from obvious benefits to dialysis patients this project has also provided Vital Arts with the space to think about new ways of generating income to support future activities.

In March 2017, Vital Arts and Central Saint Martins are taking part in the public events series Tate Exchange. Across a weekend, the two organisations will be working on an animation to bring the collected recipe advice to life while also presenting the project publicly eager to hear from dialysis patients, their friends and family as well as chefs, publishers and potential partners.