Addressing the problem of hospital noise

Dr Andreas Xyrichis, Head of Postgraduate Taught Studies at the Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing, Midwifery and Palliative Care at King’s College London, blogs about key learning from the Hospital Project on Noise Sound and Sleep (HPNoSS)

hospital noise pollutionHospitals are inherently noisy. This means patients sleep poorly, affecting their experience and recovery, and can also have an impact on staff practices. Yet despite much research over the past 50 years addressing the problem of ‘hospital noise’, the recommended maximum sound levels for hospitals continue to be regularly exceeded. 

HPNoSS is a collaborative project between King’s College London’s Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing & Midwifery and Palliative Care and the University of the Arts London, facilitated by the Cultural Institute at King’s College London. It seeks to provide a holistic understanding of sound in the hospital environment and the intimate relationship of noise to sleep, rest, treatment and recovery. 

Recently the team held an interdisciplinary symposium and workshop at the Chantler Simulation Centre attended by service users, clinicians, artists, engineers, social scientists and industry stakeholders. Through a combination of presentations, focus group discussions and experiential sessions they explored participants’ perceptions of a hospital soundscape. 

Data was gathered about participants’ subjective response to different interventions to reducing the issues caused by noise pollution in hospitals. In summary, noise cancelling headphones were generally positively received for creating a less noisy and calmer environment; but were less comfortable than the headband type with some participants finding they needed time to get used to the experience. Moreover, sound masking helped create a more comfortable and relaxed environment although some participants did not experience a significant difference. 

All participants saw the potential of the interventions for improving the experience of the hospital soundscape in different environments. Specifically, it was suggested that sound masking could be beneficial in open plan hospital areas, headband type headphones could be well received in intensive care units; and noise cancelling headphones could be used in general medical wards. 

The next phase of the project will see the conclusions gained from the workshop inform the development of these interventions in a clinical setting.

Read more about this project on the King's College London website.

hospital noise