NHS - Royal Preston Hospital

NHS Masthead, Machines, Hospital

The Organisation

Royal Preston Hospital is a teaching hospital which provides a full range of district general hospital services, several specialist regional services, and the major trauma centre for Lancashire and South Cumbria. The hospital has around 700 beds, operating theatre complex, outpatient suites, and education facilities.


The Challenge

The hospital environment can be extremely chaotic. However, it is of the utmost importance that patients, particularly in critical care and other high dependency wards, experience good quality sleep. Royal Preston Hospital was researching how adequate sleep on the ward affects patient recovery. Their staff measured ambient noise in decibels with a traffic light system used to indicate high levels (bad) and low levels (good), collating this data over several points of a 24-hour period in order to identify patterns.

They demonstrated that reductions in noise levels can improve sleep and reduce the incidence of delirium and therefore the overall length of stay of patients. Devices that give traffic light indications for noise levels and other parameters already exist, prompting ward staff to change behaviours. Royal Preston Hospital wanted a similar system that warns when light levels are too high when patients are trying to rest, which could help contribute to quality sleep, and therefore to recovery. 

Skills Sought

  • Technical design underpinned by sound engineering principles
  • Problem-solving, teamwork and communication skills
  • Enthusiasm for supporting rapid patient recovery

The Solution

A team of four 3rd-year MEng Engineering students developed a potential solution in just over two weeks. They started by developing a product specification with hospital staff, outlining and agreeing objectives. The group then conducted assessments of the different technologies that could be used, reviewing criteria such as cost, sensitivity, durability, and integration into the ward environment.

They undertook mind-mapping exercises and then developed system concepts illustrating their ideas and shared them with NHS staff to gather feedback. Following this they developed the prototype, including designs for software and hardware, and tested it at the university.  Based on feedback and testing, they produced a final system which included housing, electronics and fully-configurable software. 


Funding for the development of the prototype was provided by the Engineering Department. The fully functioning system together with a user guide was provided to the hospital staff to allow in-situ trials to be conducted.


“The risk of poor sleep and delirium in busy areas of the hospital like the critical care unit can be a significant problem especially in the elderly. This increases length of stay and death rates. The student team really helped us to address this problem by developing elegant, simple and low-cost solutions which potentially could have a huge beneficial impact on my patients.” Dr Shondipon Laha, Consultant in Critical Care Medicine and Anaesthesia.

Future Plans

The Critical Care Unit at the Royal Preston Hospital are planning on trialling the system in a ward environment to assess the prototype and its contribution to helping patient recovery. Lancaster University continues to work with the NHS and other health providers by collaborating on joint-research projects to further knowledge and technological innovation in this area, creating benefits for the wider health sector.