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Healing beyond the bedside

Topics: Human Wellbeing | Comments

Healing beyond the bedside

The new Royal Children’s Hospital building in Melbourne, Australia, is exposing patients - and staff - to the healing powers of nature.

Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) is an institution that was established in 1870 and has been delivering world-class health care to children ever since. With 4,600 staff, it is the designated statewide major trauma centre for paediatrics in Victoria and a Nationally Funded Centre for paediatric cardiac, liver and lung transplantation. It also holds a special place in the heart of most Victorians who look on the hospital as the key place to turn to when their children are unwell.

In 2006, the Victorian state government announced that it would build a new children’s hospital on the existing site at Royal Park. On 26 October 2020, the building was officially opened with the first patients moved into the facility on 30 November 2020.

HPHP Central previously reported on the planned $AUD1 billion revamp and spoke to Lead Architect of the project, Kristen Whittle, who emphasised the importance that light and access to gardens would have in the design of the new hospital. The hospital was, of course, also designed to be friendly and inviting, both welcoming to patients and families and practical for the many staff who work there.

With the hospital now up and running, we thought it was timely to find out how the new hospital is functioning. Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the RCH, Professor Christine Kilpatrick, was willing to answer some of our questions. Early indications from her are that the new hospital environment is making a huge difference to both patients and families.
“In just a few short months we have already seen the positive impact this hospital has had on our hospital community. People simply are happier and more relaxed. Importantly, children are enjoying the environment,” she says.

  • Main Street. Photo by: Robert Reitmaier, The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne.
    Main Street
  • Nine meerkats feature in an enclosure in Specialist Clinics. Photo by: Robert Reitmaier, The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne.
  • Patient Bedroom. Photo by: Robert Reitmaier, The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne.
  • Front Entry from Flemington Road. Photo by: Robert Reitmaier, The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne

Design Principles

With these early signs of success, it is hard to ignore the role of the design of the building and the attention to detail that was devoted to every aspect of the project.

“With the building of the new RCH we had the opportunity to create an environment that uniquely reflects a children’s hospital - creating spaces that are fun, distracting, stimulating and take healing beyond the bedside,” says Professor Kilpatrick.

“We had a number of principles that underpinned the design and build of the new Royal Children’s Hospital. Importantly, it is also based on a growing body of evidence about the positive power of environment, art and nature on the healing process.

“Inspired by the quality of light, the textures and forms of its parkland setting, the new RCH maximises access to daylight, gardens and views throughout. We have many areas that face onto internal gardens, as well as outdoor areas.
“The power of environmental design and nature in reducing stress and improving patient healing has been well researched and the areas of the hospital have been designed with this in mind.”


Given that the location of the RCH is alongside parkland, maximising the picturesque views and allowing access to natural light was another planned feature of the hospital design. It too seems to be proving a winner.

“Time and time again, staff, patients and families tell us how wonderful the light is in the hospital and what a difference it makes to their day. This, combined with the beautiful views of Royal Park, certainly make this a very special place,” says Professor Kilpatrick.

Main Street

Another unique feature of the hospital design is ‘Main Street’, which is the main concourse of the building and has shops, artworks on display, plenty of natural light, open spaces and a two storey aquarium with a myriad of marine life.

“The hospital is in every sense a community and Main Street helps us bring this community together,” says the CEO.
“It has become the hub of the hospital.

“Main Street is a great way to normalise the hospital experience,” she says.


The aquarium that faces Main Street is also accessible from the Emergency Department, providing a welcome distraction to families and children as they wait to be attended to by medical staff.

“It’s just another way to integrate nature into our hospital,” says the CEO. “The weekly visit by the diver who cleans and maintains the aquarium is also a big hit with kids of all ages.”


Fish are not the only creatures which have taken up residence in the new RCH. The hospital also has a group of curious meerkats, housed in a specialised enclosure that has been developed in conjunction with the staff at the Melbourne Zoo nearby. These animals provide another link to nature for users of the hospital.

“Meerkats have been chosen for their popularity with young and old alike and have always been a popular display at zoos worldwide,” reports Professor Kilpatrick. “They are social and entertaining animals and are a wonderful link with nature and surrounds.”

The outdoor area in which the meerkats enclosure is situated also operates as a beautiful outdoor garden for play and recreation.

Inpatient Unit

The inpatient unit at the hospital faces directly onto parklands and maximises the use of natural light. Eighty per cent of all rooms have a view of the parklands allowing the majority of patients to have constant views of the pleasant environs outside.

“This design reflects the growing evidence about the value of nature as part of the healing process,” says Professor Kilpatrick.

There are also balconies abutting both wards and the dedicated Family Rooms, in order to maximise the possibility of patients and their families having access to fresh air while maintaining close proximity to medical care.

Meeting Staff Needs Too

The new hospital was also developed with the needs of the many staff members in mind. As well as staff enjoying the light-filled spaces and the multiple outdoor and indoor areas for both work and rest, the CEO also reports a more fundamental change in work habits that was not possible in the old building.

“The integration and close proximity of services and areas has been a tremendous benefit. There is more interaction between staff across multi-disciplinary areas and our campus research and education partners are all close at hand,” she says.
“The old hospital had grown over time and was really a mix of buildings, corridors and smaller workspaces that didn’t facilitate a collaborative style of working.”

The new facility is a different story altogether. “The opportunity we have before us is to truly maximise the potential of this world class building and we are privileged to have such a wonderful place to deliver care to the state and indeed the country’s sickest children,” says Professor Kilpatrick.

Advice for other healthcare organisations

So what lessons are there to be drawn from this RCH revamp for other governments and healthcare organisations who may be about to embark on designing a new facility or undertaking a hospital renovation?

From Professor Kilpatrick, the advice is this: “The growing evidence internationally about the power of environmental design and nature on the healing process cannot be ignored.

“I think the result here at The Royal Children’s Hospital is testament to this evidence, delivering a patient and family-focused healing environment based on the latest in thinking in this area.

“The key is in the planning and strong engagement with your staff and indeed your patients and families throughout the design process. The power of environmental design and nature in reducing stress and improving patient healing isn’t unique to paediatric hospitals but has enormous relevance to all healthcare providers. I encourage people to strive for the best in this regard.”


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