Have you noticed that life is getting busier? We’re constantly surrounded by media and advertising through our smartphones and we’re almost always connected to the internet and social media, being almost overloaded with information. We rarely have the chance to slow down and focus anymore.

If you think about it, hospitals are just the same. They’re just as busy and full of different signs, notices and posters that are all competing for our attention when we’re walking through corridors and working on wards or, for patients, when they’re trying to get better.

But when you’re in hospital, getting better should be the only thing that you’re focusing on, shouldn’t it?

As our lives outside of the hospital environment seem to get more hectic by the day, it’s more important than ever, we think, that we make hospitals themselves a little bit calmer so that they can act as a respite from the hustle and bustle of patients’ everyday lives.

The first thing we can do to make them better places to get better is really simple: declutter the walls.

So, what do we mean when we talk about ‘wall clutter’?

In short, it’s anything on the walls that doesn’t really need to be there.

It’s signs and notices that have been hastily added on the urgent request of hospital management teams and infection control which, whilst important at one point, are probably irrelevant by the time the next request is made.

Unfortunately, as you may have noticed, neither department are quite as urgent about telling you when you can take these signs down, often leaving you with a makeshift gallery that nobody really pays attention to anymore. Whilst that might be ok for the information that doesn’t need to be there, sometimes it means important notices that are still relevant and useful get ignored.

Sounding familiar? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. We see signs clinging to walls on wards in hospitals up and down the country even though it’s arguably one of the most important, and one of the simplest, things to fix. Of all the different types of clutter, wall clutter is something that patients, visitors and, of course, nursing teams, see first and as a result is often one of the biggest visual stressors found on wards.

But how does it act as a visual stressor?

Visual stressors are, by definition, anything that we see that cause a stress reaction and trigger our brains’ natural fight or flight reaction. They are things that make us feel less safe in the space that we’re in and might make us feel uncomfortable or wary of what’s going around us. Sometimes they can even make us feel like we’re in danger.

It isn’t just the volume of signs on walls that can make them act as visual stressors, sometimes it’s the message that they’re giving out too.

We once visited a hospital ward where there were multiple signs warning about the dangers of sepsis in a private room occupied by a gentleman who rarely left that space. Have a think, have you ever read something repeatedly to the point where you were convinced it was going to happen? Now, imagine being surrounded by signs warning you about sepsis when there’s nothing else to look at in a room. It’s easy to see how notices like these can have such a negative effect on a patients’ positivity.

Unfortunately, if you’re receiving treatment in hospital, your flight option is normally unavailable, leaving only one alternative. Those patients who are uncomfortable or feel unsafe, especially when they’ve lost so much control over their routine and daily life already, often become resistant to their nurses attempts to provide them with care. They can also become increasingly anxious, angry and, in some cases, aggressive.

Recent studies have shown that more visually appealing surroundings can have a hugely positive effect on patients who are hospitalised with serious conditions. One study even found that a calmer, more relaxing environment can help reduce anxiety in patients with advanced stage cancer and can even go as far as reducing the amount of medication they need to take.

Now, if that’s not worth taking that old handwashing sign down for, we’re not sure what is!

It’s not just patients who are affected

How much more comfortable it would be for nursing teams to work on a ward where the walls weren’t covered in signs warning them about risks, infections and things that can go wrong?

Nursing staff don’t just suffer from the negative impact of being surrounded by these sorts of signs, they also have to try and help those patients who are becoming stressed by the same thing, who’s natural ‘fight’ reaction has kicked in.

Ok so, what are we going to do to fix it?

When we work with hospitals to redesign wards, its walls are one of the first things we look at. Obviously, for practical reasons, they’re important to have but it’s often the case that over time, they’ve turned into the visually stressful, overstimulating information points that we’ve become so used to seeing. Our initial task is to clear these spaces and then to find a way to stop the clutter from accumulating again.

Decluttering walls is just one of the ways we can use WallGlamour to decorate wards in an intentional way. Intentional decoration allows us to create walls that serve a purpose, not just walls with imagery that serve to replace the uninspiring, bare magnolia you’d usually find in a hospital.

Customising designs and incorporating noticeboard areas, like our team has above, allows us to provide a focused place for signs and notices, rather than having them scattered around or squeezed onto the last available bit of plaster. By providing a dedicated area, everyone who uses the ward will be more likely to pay attention to what the signs actually say and, importantly, because of the limited space within the frame, teams will be more proactive when it comes to reviewing the information on display and removing anything that doesn’t need to be there.

Remember when the fourth floor of the car park was out of use? No, because it was so long ago. So, do patients and visitors need to know about it when they arrive on your ward? Probably not anymore.

Using versatile solutions like WallGlamour to declutter walls is just one of the ways we’re helping to make hospitals a better healing environment for patients, a more supportive workplace for nurses and a more encouraging setting for visitors to support loved ones on their journey back to health.

As well as making wards better ourselves, we love helping staff find their own ways to make their hospitals better places for everybody to be. There’s plenty of things you can do, even on a shoestring, and throughout the year we’ll be sharing our expertise and introducing some simple but effective ways for you to create more positive healthcare environments.

But we’re not just going to give you the instructions and leave you to get on with it, where’s the fun in that? Along the way, we’ll be running a series of #makehospitalsbetter challenges with some prizes up for grabs for the wards who really wow us with their transformations.

Our first challenge is coming soon and, as you may have already guessed, will involve you decluttering your walls. We won’t give too much away but, if you want to get involved, sign up to our newsletter to make sure you don’t miss out. Why not make it really interesting and get a few different wards from around your hospital involved? We can’t wait to see who comes out on top!

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