Three ways to light a doctor’s surgery

A doctor’s surgery must be well lit. The consequences of a mistake are much more serious than in most other jobs. Also, compared with an office where there are fairly fixed positions for the task area, a GP’s surgery requires bright illumination just about everywhere. Cleanliness is paramount, so there should be no darker areas that could harbour dirt. 

Obviously, there is a small workspace where the doctor has a computer screen and makes notes. This is almost certainly next to a window and you should think about the orientation of the screen to avoid reflections. The desk is quite often in a corner so you must position the luminaires so the doctor is not working in a shadow. 

Also, there will also be an examination bed. First, this should have a movable examination light. The larger lighting manufacturers have ranges of medical luminaires so they will almost certainly have something suitable. As in a dentist’s surgery, the patient will spend a long time looking at the ceiling. You should make sure the ceiling luminaires are not glaring. Better still; try to position them so that they are not in direct view. Wall-mounted uplights in this area are often a good solution but make sure they have covers so they can be cleaned. 

In the surgery, there will also be a washbasin, wall charts, filing cabinets and a drugs cupboard. All need high levels of horizontal and vertical illumination. Before you start your design, it is worthwhile consulting LG2: Hospitals and Health Care Buildings. There is lots of guidance on how to light medical areas and tasks.

Our surgery is a nominal 5m x 6m with a 3m ceiling. We have designed it to a maintained illuminance of 500 lx.

Here is a simple solution that can work quite well if done properly. We have used some fairly low-power, wide-angle LED downlights with a frosted dropped glass. This has two functions. First, the glass reflects some light back on to the ceiling. Second, being frosted, the glass obscures the LED source inside.  

We have omitted the downlight directly over the pillow of the examination bed to avoid glare to the patient. Note that there is a specialist examination light on the adjacent wall. 

Beware of using too narrow a downlight beam. You need a wide beam to give sufficient light on the patients’ faces and avoid sombre walls. If you choose the right combination of dropped glass trim and low brightness downlight, you can achieve an effective and attractive scheme at low cost.


Tech spec 

  • Luminaires LED downlight
  • Optical control Reflector plus frosted glass
  • Arrangement Three by four
  • Average horizontal illuminance on desk 485 lx
  • Electrical load 9.4W/m2
  • Pros Low cost
  • Cons Keeping the glass covers clean

Not all LED ceiling panels are the same. An IP44 version with a smooth, flat diffuser has the advantage of being easily wiped clean. However, in a GP’s surgery, you would need to be careful about the brightness (luminance) of the panel because patients may have to look directly into them when on the examination bed. Instead, the panel we have used has a blade/louvre arrangement that obscures a direct view of  the LEDs.

Lighting calculation software can easily produce a ready-made grid of luminaires to suit a particular illumination level. In this case, the software placed a panel directly over the head of the bed, so we have moved that panel away from direct view. Even with just six luminaires, you still need to think about the lighting design and layout.


Tech spec 

  • Luminaires 600 x 600 ceiling panel
  • Optical control Deflecting blades
  • Arrangement Six, as shown
  • Average horizontal illuminance on desk 513 lx
  • Electrical load 9W/m2 
  • Pros Cheap and easy to install
  • Cons Check the panel luminance isn’t too high

Uplighters are always worth considering because the patient can never get a direct view of the light source. However, you should make sure that the uplight has a decent optic and doesn’t produce an over-bright patch of light on the ceiling. This can cause distracting reflections in a computer screen.

These wall uplights produce plenty of illumination on the desk and examination bed, but we have decided to boost the light in the centre of the surgery using downlights. Don’t forget that you must choose an uplight with a cover lens so it can easily be cleaned and doesn’t trap insects.

Although the installed electrical load is heavier than the other options, the ceiling is a lot lighter and the space seems more human.


Tech spec 

  • Luminaires 70W metal halide uplight and LED downlights
  • Optical control Shaped reflector and cover lens
  • Arrangement As shown
  • Average horizontal illuminance on desk 520 lx
  • Electrical load 15W/m2 
  • Pros More welcoming
  • Cons Highest electrical load