National Health Service hospitals should be offering patients recreational activities such as bingo, board games, art and music to help battle boredom, improve psychological wellbeing and better treatment outcomes, says a new report by the British Medical Association.

A much greater focus should be placed on promoting wellness in hospital by addressing the psychological and social needs of patients, it says, and suggests a variety of methods that could not only improve the patient experience but also speed recovery, thereby saving hospitals money.  

"What people sometimes forget, is that by helping people to feel better while in their hospital stay could reduce their need for painkillers, their likelihood of getting depression, perhaps not eating enough - all the things which will limit their recovery. And if we can speed people's recovery they will spend shorter and save money," Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of science and ethics at the BMA, told the BBC's Today programme.

Offering recreational activities in hospitals such as bingo has the potential to do more than simply tackle boredom, helping to deal with depression and anxiety and providing patients with the means to improve quality of life through social interaction and support, and accomplishing task-orientated goals, the report notes.

On the physiological side, the introduction of music to help create a peaceful environment has been shown to significantly reduce heart and respiratory rates as well as oxygen demand in patients recovering from acute myocardial infarction, compared to those treated without music, while a study on premature infants played lullabies and classical music observed a beneficial effect on weight gain and a significantly reduced length of hospital stay. 

The physical environment can also influence patients' sense of wellbeing and health outcomes, the BMA stressed, pointing to a report in 2003 by NHS Estates which found that patients make better progress in purpose-designed modern buildings than in older ones, as well as research linking poor hospital design with anxiety, delirium, high blood pressure, and increased intake of analgesics. 

Future design

Going forward, the Association notes that healthcare building design should in future "extend beyond functional efficiency, marketing and cost", promoting wellness by making sure that patients are not overcrowded and providing open, spacious and well-ventilated public areas including a day room and dining room.

Single sex wards, noise control, and access to nature views and hospital gardens were also cited as key in addressing psychological and social issues associated with hospitals stays in order to secure a more holistic approach to care for patients.

Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients' Association, has welcomed the report. "Healthcare professionals must stop treating people as widgets on a production line or a statistic and treat the person as a human being", she said, and stressed that patient-centred care"cannot simply be about the disease or condition that the patient is suffering from but must consider them as a whole person".