New obesity clinic sets precedent for healthcare architecture

Sudbury Clinic in London, designed by Counter and King Architects for Streamline Surgical, has been developed specifically to cater for a growing number of overweight patients

The Sudbury Clinic has been designed specifically for obese patients

With the problem of obesity hitting epidemic proportions in the UK, and forecasts that the number of overweight people is only going to increase in the coming years, healthcare environments face the challenge of adapting facilities to cater for larger patients. Providing evidence of what health facilities of the future might look like is the new Sudbury Clinic in Harrow-on-the-Hill in north west London. JO MAKOSINSKI investigates

With obesity often comes a plethora of medical conditions, so overweight people can spend a large proportion of their time visiting GP surgeries, health centres and hospitals.

“In most hospital waiting rooms the chairs are the small plastic type with arms and they are challenging for someone who weights 12st, let alone for someone who is 20st or more,” explains obesity expert, Shaw Somers, who developed the Sudbury Clinic, a specialist centre for private and NHS bariatric patients with colleagues, Guy Slater and Chris Pring. “Narrow doorways can also pose a problem.”

He adds: “In America, facilities like ours have long existed in large numbers and the opening of The Sudbury Clinic signifies the UK’s acknowledgement of a new way to manage obesity.

“We want our patients to feel they have somewhere to go that is designed to make them feel comfortable and that can accommodate their needs in a subtle way.

In America, facilities like ours have long existed in large numbers and the opening of The Sudbury Clinic signifies the UK’s acknowledgement of a new way to manage obesity

“These people are not just physically overweight, but there is often a significant psychological aspect to the condition as well. Having the right environment without the obstacles that would normally be there, like narrow doorways and small chairs, makes it a whole different experience and makes it much less intimidating. People feel at ease so they can discuss what is a personal and difficult topic for them.”

The facility has been designed with patients 20st and over in mind, featuring large doorways and specialist bariatric chairs and sofas, which are designed to withstand heavy weights, but to look homely. Seats in the waiting room have also been raised four inches off the ground, making them easier to get in and out of, and weighing scales go up to 80st rather than the standard 25st.

Consulting rooms have wide doors and bariatric furniture

Designed by Peter King of Counter and King Architects, the facility, based at the BMI Clementine Churchill Hospital, is run by Streamline Surgical and 40% of the staff working there have undergone bariatric surgery themselves. They will work with patients to discuss the full range of treatments available, including gastric bypass and gastric band interventions.

Somers said: “The UK obesity epidemic is following the trend seen in the US and in recent years public attitudes have shifted and now many recognise obesity as an illness.

“Having worked as an NHS surgeon for many years, I and many of my colleagues recognise the huge burden that obesity places on our resources, both directly and indirectly.

“At the Sudbury Clinic we have created an environment where people feel at ease because it has been designed specifically for them and they can access everything they need. So often people who are severely overweight feel there isn’t a lot that is built with them in mind.”

Use of standard fixtures and fittings, such as those designed for disabled people in wheelchairs, has helped to create space inside the building, with five ground-floor consulting rooms in total. Parking spaces are also within easy reach of the entrance.

We have created an environment where people feel at ease because it has been designed specifically for them and they can access everything they need. So often people who are severely overweight feel there isn’t a lot that is built with them in mind

King, said: “It was a jigsaw puzzle, although designing for this patient group was not so different to designing other healthcare buildings.

“Everything we chose is there to buy off the shelf, so very little was bespoke in that building. This is why we hope this can easily be echoed across the wider NHS and private healthcare sector.

“Perhaps more than anything the real issue is access and trying not to alienate the patient and make them feel they are in an extreme or extraordinary situation.”

The result is a homely environment, complete with domestic light fittings, rather than the usual suspended ceilings, suggesting to patients that staff are there to look after them.

“Overweight people are often marginalised,” said King. “They usually have to go into the room with the large doors, but here all the rooms are all the same. Each is also subtly different. They have been designed to provide a calming atmosphere, even though the materials on the walls are hardwearing. Timber flooring rather than industrial carpet or lino makes it feel even more special.”

Consulting rooms have again been designed in a similar way to standard disabled facilities, working on the concept that if you can gain access and turn around when in a wheelchair, you should be able to manage if you are overweight or obese.

Many patients who are considering bariatric surgery face an unusually high level of anxiety and stress and we hope this new clinic will become the model for the UK healthcare marketplace

“This was a very interesting project,” said King. “It was about working with an existing building that was derelict and was last used by a motorcycle courier company, and creating a specialist environment to improve people’s health and wellbeing.”

The development also includes a reception, clean and dirty utilities area, management and back office facilities, a meeting room and an overnight room for a consultant.

Jan Hale, executive director of BMI Clementine Churchill Hospital, said of the project: “Obesity represents one of the biggest threats to the health and wellbeing of people in the UK and for many patients dieting, exercise and medications aren’t enough to bring their weight down to a safe and lasting level, so surgery can be the only viable option.

“Many patients who are considering bariatric surgery face an unusually high level of anxiety and stress and we hope this new clinic will become the model for the UK healthcare marketplace. By addressing the needs of our patients we hope to support them in every way along their journey to a longer healthier life.”

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