The Challenge:

Northumberland, Tyne & Wear NHS Foundation Trust needed to provide a new facility for adults with severely complex autistic spectrum disorders, service users who struggle to be accommodated within more mainstream mental health services. The Trust were also responding to a new healthcare methodology that looks beyond managing their conditions long-term in NHS facilities to a much greater focus on helping them move back into the community.

There is very little design research and few exemplary purpose-built facilities for this type of service. Individual service users respond differently and sometimes aggressively to the sensory aspects of their environment, presenting a considerable design challenge.

The Solution:

The Mitford Unit is the first building in the UK specifically designed for adults with complex and severe autistic spectrum disorders, and is a pioneering project that required sector-leading, client driven design standards.

The building includes residential accommodation for up to 15 adults, in single and shared flats within the four ‘fingers’ of accommodation. There are 8 single-person flats for the most complex and challenging service users. The remainder of the accommodation is divided into two 2-person flats and one 3-person flat, for the service users who are more able to socialise and are being prepared to leave the unit.

The design of the unit has created a calm and protective setting, that helps ensure the comfort and privacy of residents. To meet the gap in design guidance, Kier worked closely with architects Medical Architecture to develop design standards that built on knowledge from existing autism units, collaboration with the Autistic Society, and first hand knowledge from the Trust’s clinicians.

The Impact:

The new unit has been operational since December 2016, and has delivered many of the Trust’s key objectives. It has improved the quality of clinical care for service users by delivering a fully integrated service in a purpose-built environment that incorporates best practice from around the world. The new unit has allowed the Trust to implement a new model of care that combines a focused admission and treatment pathway of 18 months that prepares the service user for transition back into the community.

The therapeutic environment has boosted service user behaviour and mood; service users who struggled in previous accommodation have seen significant improvements in wellbeing, to the extent that many patients now have greater freedom and abilities than ever before. The Trust also saw a marked reduction in negative incidents across the first two years of use, demonstrating the impact of the new design.

The collaborative approach of an integrated and committed project team, particularly in building upon clinical expertise, has created an innovative and world-leading facility.

" “There was very little design research or exemplary purpose built facilities for this type of service and as individual patients respond differently to the sensory aspects of their environment, this presented a considerable ‘design challenge.’ However, we believe the collaborative approach of an integrated and committed project team, particularly in building upon clinical expertise, has created an innovative and world leading facility.” "
John Carson Capital Projects Manager Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust

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