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Social Work: Research


Waiting Better

This project is a collaboration with the NHS that began with the study of design and content of GP Surgery waiting rooms.

We found that health waiting areas are neglected spaces that usually fail to take advantage of the understanding that the patient’s ‘journey’ begins before their meeting with a doctor or other health professional.  We also found that care taken with the waiting space and experience can be felt to be a proxy for care that will be taken when patient and doctor meet.

Our close study of GP waiting rooms found clutter on walls and tables, old magazines, less-than-friendly reception counters and worse, because waiting for health advice can be an anxious period, posters that could be even more unsettling because of their shock content. The result is that people retreat into themselves and their phones.

We are developing ideas for how this ‘dead time’ could be different.  And it so happens that recent developments in the NHS in Edinburgh have opened up a window to road test out our findings. 

The Opportunity

‘Promoting Health in Leith Walk Ward’ (NHS, 2017) is part of a larger initiative that has recognised that 20% of presentations at GP surgeries are inappropriate and can be better responded to by alternatives within ‘the system’, including pharmacies, social care, opticians, dentists.  In relation to pharmacies, the ‘Pharmacy First’ initiative has been established where ‘minor ailments’ can be better responded to. 


Our contacts with local pharmacies in Edinburgh have been positive and there is an enthusiasm to discuss new waiting environments that are being developed. Thus opportunity for a ‘ground floor’ intervention.

The fact that the NHS is prioritising the development of a new configuration offers a unique opportunity to influence and shape the nature of new waiting environments.

We have received an ESRC grant to back our next activities.

What we’re going to do

By working with Community Pharmacists, the two main GP surgeries, dentists and opticians to reshape waiting areas and innovatively engage with customers to help them maintain or recover their health or live with an illness, we have set out to influence the patient experience by:

• Better waiting environments for local citizens, building on the health potential of both digital and community knowledge exchange to best deliver targeted health and welfare advice

• Fostering and enhancing productive, beneficial environments that in turn make for better conversations between patients and professionals

• Ensuring the time spent in waiting areas is better spent, e.g. being used for health-related learning and for enabling behaviour change.

What we hope to achieve

• improved information display areas

• Well-presented and curated information both on paper and digitally on screens where they have been installed

• A digital health-promoting app for mobile phones that will provide links and access to advice across a range of subjects that are normally promoted in leaflet and poster form but will be browsable on social media, such as healthy eating, fitness tips, ‘warning-sign’ type materials so as to make better use of ‘down-time’; scannable QRs in waiting areas will also be developed to offer better waiting time use  

• Staff briefing/training/support on effectively engaging customers with these resources

• The options that are developed for the helpful use of space will be compiled as a toolkit to help other pharmacists, health practice managers, consider what is best for their space.

We intend to work alongside GP surgeries in the targeted area in parallel with pharmacies but also plan to reach out to other health and welfare waiting areas that can benefit, e.g. A and E, social work offices.

A Doctors Waiting Room (The L.S. Lowry Collection)