World-first testing scheme for mental health construction products is launched

BRE and Design in Mental Health Network unveil new certification scheme as result of five-year partnership

The new certification scheme for mental health construction products is the result of five years of research and will help designers, architects, manufacturers and healthcare providers to create more-supportive environments for some of the most-vulnerable patients

A world-first testing scheme for construction products used in mental health care facilities has launched today, offering vulnerable patients more protection from self harm and better environments more conducive to recovery.

The new certification scheme – Informed Choices - is being rolled out by built environment specialist, BRE, and non-for-profit group, the Design in Mental Health Network (DIMHN), and comes as the UK marks Mental Health Awareness Week.

The result of a five-year partnership between BRE and DIMHN, it offers comprehensive testing guidance for materials, fixtures, and hardware for use within mental healthcare facilities, helping to standardise products needed to mitigate common issues, for example anti-barricade doors.

Better product selection, with great architecture, will keep patients and staff safe and help foster better therapeutic relationships for a more-sustaining recovery

BRE chief executive, Gillian Charlesworth, said: “At a time when health services are struggling amid the pressures of the pandemic and the resulting increase in people suffering from mental health issues, the scheme will ensure consistency in safety standards across the sector, supporting staff and the patients in their care.

“It will also simplify procurement for NHS trusts and other health authorities, removing the excess costs incurred through the proliferation of different products and testing methods which currently exist.

“More time can then be spent on ensuring the very fabric of treatment facilities is conducive to patient recovery.”

Up until now, there has been no global standard to assess the safety of products used in mental health care and treatment facilities.

By introducing this scheme, BRE and DIMHN aim to help protect people at their most-vulnerable time – when they see no other option but to self harm or take their own life.

To develop the scheme, BRE and DIMHN sought guidance from over 60 experts globally, led by a team in the UK.

Charlesworth said: “The built environment is increasingly considered crucial to mental health and the launch of Informed Choices follows several recent research initiatives looking at the positive role that buildings can play in the healing process for people with mental health disorders.

We’ve created these standardised tests to allow people involved in creating these spaces to make more-informed choices about the products within the building

“This theme was explored in detail in an DIMHN report in 2017, which included research showing that there is a 20% reduction in the average length of stay in a mental health facility following a ward refurbishment.”

The Design in Mental Health Network is a not-for-profit UK based organisation made up of dedicated professionals who volunteer their time and talent to promote best practice and the impact good design has, across all building disciplines, in the recovery of patients staying in a mental health facility.

Charlesworth, said: “The pandemic has resulted in a sharp increase in people suffering from poor mental health. And, now, more than ever, it is crucial that the construction, design and health industries work together to create safer environments for patients.

“BRE and DIMHN are proud to be at the forefront of this.

“As a world first, the scheme also represents the best of British innovation, with international manufacturers and healthcare providers looking closely at adopting this standard around the world.”

DIMHN chairman, Philip Ross, adds: “Creating space to allow clinicians to care for those with mental ill health presents a number of challenges for designers and specifiers: the importance of creating a healing environment that supports recovery, while coping with behaviours of people who are at their most-distressed time.

It will simplify procurement for NHS trusts and other health authorities, removing the excess costs incurred through the proliferation of different products and testing methods which currently exist

“We’ve created these standardised tests to allow people involved in creating these spaces to make more-informed choices about the products within the building – better product selection, with great architecture, will keep patients and staff safe and help foster better therapeutic relationships for a more-sustaining recovery.

“With interest in this scheme from USA and Australia, we believe this initiative can help millions of people at their most-vulnerable time.”

And the testing regime has been widely welcomed by mental health providers.

John Atkins, head of major capital and property management at West London NHS Trust, said: “DIMHN and BRE need to be applauded in developing this scheme.

“The physical environment plays a major role in delivering successful clinical outcomes for vulnerable people in our hospitals suffering from mental health issues.

“The certification scheme will clearly become a valuable tool enabling trusts to procure products which already have a specific testing certification, which, in turn, will save them time and money undertaking their own, very similar, testing.”

Architects, too, are looking to use the standards to enhance environments.

Pete Stead, associate director at P+HS Architects, said: “The certification scheme will be invaluable in helping design teams, trusts, manufacturers, and contractors deliver spaces that are fit for purpose and centred on recovery, allowing the environment to better reflect the needs of the care pathway.

“The guidance will also allow project teams to assess products and specify performance levels to suit acuity and thus deliver better value for the client.”

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