The power of art in a healthcare environment


Kate Farrow, director of operations at King Edward VII’s Hospital, on how the addition of artworks to a hospital environment can have a positive impact on patient wellbeing

For healthcare providers, outstanding quality of service and treatment should be a given. At King Edward VII’s Hospital we have been well known for this since we were first established to care for soldiers wounded in the Boer War and later cared for officers wounded in the First World War. Now a private hospital, we are still a charity, and our commitment is always to delivering outstanding care, including to the armed forces through our Centre for Veterans’ Health.

The patient experience is key to our offering. Not only do patients demand this 360-degree offering from a hospital, but the right environment can have a positive impact on their recovery, and overall wellbeing. We’ve fulfilled this not only through the investment we have made in our facilities and technology, great food and a truly personalised care provision for each patient, but also through the introduction of works of art into the building, which contributes to a patient’s experience throughout their stay.

For many centuries, art has been adopted within hospitals to give spiritual sustenance and comfort to patients, to enhance their surroundings and boost morale. The benefit of art on the healthcare environment has been demonstrated by Stine Nielsen in a 2017 study: not only can artwork have a positive impact on the atmosphere of the hospital building; it successfully maintains a connection to the world outside the hospital and contributes to health outcomes by improving patient satisfaction as an extended form of healthcare. Most importantly, though, as the medical industry rebuilds its relationship with patients following the pandemic, the presence of art reassures patients that the hospital has the resources to treat them effectively.

A Bridget Riley artwork at the King Edward VII’s Medical Centre

A Bridget Riley artwork at the King Edward VII’s Medical Centre

Establishing an art programme has been key to furthering the overall patient experience. This has been demonstrated most clearly by forging a partnership with the Zimmer Stewart Gallery, a collaboration showcasing an annually changing collection of 18 original paintings by six emerging artists over the six floors of our new King Edward VII’s Hospital Medical Centre. This centre opened earlier this year to expand our outpatient and diagnostics services.

But he jewel in the crown of the hospital’s art collection has been an installation in the new outpatient centre by abstract artist Bridget Riley. A champion for the inclusion of art in hospitals, Bridget began donating her work in the 1970s, and it has been a privilege to become her latest recipient, and benefit from her joy in the restorative power of colour to lighten the lives of our patients. We’ve already seen the impact this has had on the mood of patients in our new facility.

The next phase in the programme is a call for artists to place their work in the hospital. This summer, as part of our work with Zimmer Stewart, we’re opening the opportunity to all UK-based artists to submit their works to form an exhibit within the hospital, to open in 2023.

Approximately 20 works will be exhibited for a period of at least 12 months in our new Medical Centre as part of our emphasis on the wellbeing of staff and patients. By hiring the works from successful entrants, we’re hoping to encourage other talented artists to embrace the very important role of art in healthcare.

Find out more about how to apply.