Hospital wards to get the feng shui treatment

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HOSPITALS will be allowed to employ feng shui experts to advise them on how to rearrange furniture as part of a Government drive to introduce a more "soothing" atmosphere into the NHS.

The Department of Health has issued guidance on interior decoration for hospitals urging them to paint wards and waiting room walls calming greens and blues.

Managers are being encouraged to install fishtanks, scenic pictures and plants in public spaces as part of the drive to help patients relax. They have also been told to rearrange furniture in order to create a less aggressive atmosphere in waiting rooms and accident and emergency departments.

The Department of Health con-firmed that hospitals would be able to use taxpayers' money to employ specialists in feng shui, the ancient Chinese art of building design. "If a hospital were to come up with a proposal to use feng shui that would be fine," a spokesman said. "Hospitals can do that if they think it will have a calming influence."

The Health Secretary Frank Dobson's new guidelines on decor are part of the drive to reduce violence against staff. He hopes that more calming layouts and colour schemes will discourage patients from beating up doctors and nurses.

Feng shui, the system which is meant to "harness the positive energy" of a room to increase happiness, prosperity and good health by laying down rules for its layout, would be the most controversial use.

Some private GP surgeries in Britain have already redesigned their rooms using feng shui, and the system is used in private hospitals in the United States. Private health company Bupa recently paid feng shui consultants to makeover its head office to give a "calming room" and an "energising room".

Although the Department of Health does not specifically recommend the ancient art, a document, sent to all NHS managers, entitled Tackling Violence in A&E, uses the language of feng shui to advise hospitals on decor. "Careful selection of colour schemes are important as some colours can have an effect on the mood of the observer," it states. "Some have a calming effect, like green, bluish-green, and yellowish-green, while colours such as bright yellow and red can be a source of irritation. Other colours, such as brown, dark grey, and black, are depressing." Like feng shui consultants, the document advises: "Water colours and 'scenic pictures' are preferable to abstract paintings and black and white pictures, which appear starker."

Using feng shui principles hospitals could also soften harmful edges of protruding corners such as beds by placing plants in front of them to "dissolve the killing energy". However, in some large wards it might also be difficult to place beds diagonally opposite the entrance to bring good luck to patients.

Sylvia Bennet, a feng shui consultant, said some aspects of the system would be perfect for hospitals because it creates "tranquillity and has uplifting benefits to health".

Simon Brown, a feng shui consultant who has worked for GPs, said a priority in hospitals would be to place chairs with their back to a wall rather than a door in order to stop patients feeling exposed. Plants should be brought in as they are a "source of creativity and inspiration". He claims they can help people recover more quickly. Ageing lino should be replaced with less "stagnant" wood flooring.

A Tory spokesman condemned the plan. "This is taking Labour's obsession with style over substance to a ridiculous degree," he said. "Feng shui may be all the rage in Islington but it shouldn't be a priority for the cash-strapped health service. It is patients, not wallpaper, that matter."