Sussex Partnership is a mental health and learning disability NHS Foundation Trust in South East England. In 2020, a project was proposed to work with hospital staff to create ‘Autism Friendly’ environments on acute mental health wards, by primarily looking at the Environment; the Ward Processes; Staff Training and increasing Confidence. This was due to recognising the high number of autistic service users who had reported that the environmental and sensory aspects of their admissions had negatively impacted their wellbeing and inpatient experience.
Two pilot wards were selected: an 18-bed female acute mental health ward and a 19-bed mixed sex acute ward in Sussex. Both wards support adults aged 18-65 with mental health needs, who require inpatient care and treatment.
A sensory audit of the ward environment was completed by two Occupational Therapists (OTs) and a group of Experts by Experiences (EbEs). The EbEs all had experience of admission. Photos were also shared with another OT and further EbEs and The ‘Checklist for: Autism & Mental Health-Friendly Environments’ was used to help facilitate discussions around the senses and experience of each area of the wards.
The team worked to develop environmental recommendations considering the senses (visual; olfactory; auditory; proprioception/body awareness; tactile; gustatory and vestibular). These were shared with management and estates teams to implement these recommendations safely and efficiently to achieve our goal of creating ‘autism friendly’ environments. The project coincided with ward refurbishment projects and therefore the recommendations were able to be incorporated as part of the general refurbishments.
By collaboratively working with the group of EbEs, this kept the service user experience in the centre of the project, and challenged all involved to think differently. It is felt that the recommendations are meaningful and already having a positive impact for service users within the mental health wards.