University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust (UHP) has today officially opened its newly transformed Intensive Care Unit (ICU) Secret Garden, the first of its kind in the south of England.
Nestled away on the Derriford hospital site, this bespoke outdoor space will now enable ICU patients to breathe fresh air in the company of their families, loved ones and carers, and will even provide the opportunity for them to be reunited with their beloved pets, in a private and safe environment outside of a typical hospital setting.
The benefits of patients being able to experience fresh, clean air coupled with natural light are well documented. Not only does it improve patient experience, but it can also have a significant impact on delirium, mood and sleep. Every year, up to 3,000 patients and 6,000 relatives will come through the doors of the ICU at UHP and access to the garden will greatly enhance the hospital stays for many.
In 2018, Andrew Heveran, a then ICU patient, asked to go outside to be reunited with his dogs and loved ones during a prolonged hospital stay. This brought to light the fact that UHP didn’t have a suitable space to take ventilated and very unwell patients outside, nor a private space to do so. Inspired by Andrew, ICU Specialist Sister Kate Tantam set about finding a way to transform a former grey courtyard on level 4 into a functional, outdoor ICU garden space.
“I felt like UHP needed a dedicated space to be adapted for the needs of all ICU patients, to not only provide them with the opportunity to reconnect with the outdoors whilst mitigating the weather, but also improve capacity and prolong visiting times,” explains Kate. “Thanks to the efforts of my colleagues and a wonderful team of volunteers, we began to use the space in 2018 for patient rehabilitation and it has witnessed some really special events, such as birthdays and weddings. The area was particularly important in helping patients to gain a sense of normality during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as providing staff with somewhere to recover from the pressures of looking after critically unwell patients, whilst also wearing full PPE.”
Now, a bespoke garden room has been constructed, fitted with specialist equipment including piped oxygen, power, skylights, floor-to-ceiling glass walls and bi-fold doors, which extend the room’s use to the outside area. Harnessing the positive healing power of nature, the garden itself has been created by Mark Lane, garden designer and the first BBC gardening presenter in a wheelchair. He himself spent months in a critical care unit after a serious car crash. The garden is designed to be fully inclusive and accessible for all.
The garden’s woodland theme will now provide patients with the opportunity to be amongst tailored plants and trees in a private, controlled yet non-clinical looking environment, whilst still being connected to the medical equipment that they require. Wide, smooth paths, custom benches, screens and raised flower beds provide a sensory space and the skylights and glass walls will allow very unwell patients to be exposed to nature. This will reduce the level of risk to all ICU patients whilst increasing their safety and most importantly improve the hospital stays of patients when they want to spend time outside.
All of this has been made possible by generous grants and donations to UHP’s official NHS Charity, including money from NHS Charities Together, as well as a substantial contribution from the Trust. An external team also came together and donated valuable time and resources to help make this project a reality, including the Trust’s Capital Projects team, lead designers Bailey Partnership, engineering consultancy Hoare Lea and Nevada Construction. Despite facing some challenges, all worked collaboratively to design, deliver and build this amazing place within the heart of the hospital.
“This project has been close to our hearts for many years now, so it is wonderful to see it finally come to fruition, and we are all really delighted with the outcome,” adds Kate. “These outdoor ICU beds will play a critical role in supporting ICU patients in a secure manner, as well as end-of-life patients too. This garden is set to make a real difference to patients and their loved ones as well as colleagues for years to come.”
Andrew [pictured right, with Kate and his family] explains what the garden means to him: “My stay in Derriford’s ICU lasted about 6 months. When you’re in the ICU you really lose track of all time and are essentially stuck inside one room. I just wanted to get out. I met Kate who arranged for me to be wheeled outside in my hospital bed and it was a real tonic for me. To be able to go outside and feel the fresh air with my family and dogs was really uplifting. The opening of this garden will mean a lot to patients. A bespoke space like this, with fresh air and greenery would have definitely aided my mental state.”
Wilma Heveran, Andrew’s wife, adds, “It wasn’t a nice time, but to be able to visit Andrew outside of the same four walls we were used to was really nice. Being outside meant that we could visit as a whole family, dogs included of course. Back then, the space we could access was on a different level to the ICU, so it was more difficult and taxing on the staff. This new garden is purpose built and more accessible for a wider range of patients.”
Dan Paige Cocks [pictured left, with Kate and his wife Viki] was reunited with his wife and young family in the garden before its complete transformation. He had been placed in an induced coma after contracting COVID-19 and found that the outdoor environment played a big part in his recovery.
“The garden, even in its former state, was better for me mentally than any drug. It was a massive undertaking to be taken outside in my bed but it made such a huge difference and made me feel alive again. Being reunited with my children and for them to be able to visit me in the garden was just incredible. It gave me the willpower to recover and was so much better for my children to experience. They now think of it as a beautiful place that made Daddy better instead of having to see me in the perhaps overwhelming environment of the ICU ward.”
For further information about the development of the ICU Secret Garden, please visit: https://www.plymouthhospitals.nhs.uk/derriford-secret-garden