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A select number of experts from both the healthcare and construction industries gathered for a roundtable event recently to discuss the role of flexible Healthcare Spaces, in particular modularisation, in helping address deteriorating NHS estate and hospital capacity issues being seen nationwide.
The role of flexible Healthcare Spaces as interim solutions during periods of refurbishment, as well as their potential in helping to provide additional capacity solutions, was the subject up for discussion at a recent roundtable hosted by Vanguard Healthcare Solutions.
Bringing together a range of architectural, clinical estates and operational healthcare professionals, the roundtable focused in particular on Modern Methods of Construction and its role in helping the NHS ‘build back smarter’. It looked at the benefits of introducing Modern Methods of Construction in the healthcare estates landscape.
Across the UK, many hospitals are in need of urgent refurbishment and modernisation, with a recent report finding that the number of clinical incidents that have occurred due to outdated infrastructure has more than tripled in the last 5 years.
The Naylor report, published in 2017, stated that without significant investment, ‘the NHS estate will remain unfit for purpose and will continue to deteriorate’. This issue was heightened through the revelation that more than 30 hospitals in England have roofs that could collapse at any point, further highlighting the need to update and improve hospital infrastructure.
Three key themes emerged from the roundtable session; when creating or using new infrastructure in health settings the vital components to ensuring the project’s best chances of success are language, involvement and evidence-based design. Participants heard that The Royal College of Surgeons England has recently endorsed the use of surgical hubs to addressing the backlog and creating additional capacity and that modular buildings can aid that process by adding pace and speed to build and development, and therefore bringing forward commissioning.
The roundtable heard that the benefits of using modular buildings to create additional capacity for healthcare settings include improved flexibility, quick delivery, multiple future uses to keep up with the landscape of healthcare, repeatable elements and reining in of costs and use of materials.
The benefits also include, participants heard, the possible enhanced quality of care, lower COVID-19 risks, reduction in patient stress and helping Trusts meet their 18 week targets. They can also increase throughput and bring healthcare to the centre of communities.
To give projects the best opportunity for success, the participants agreed, it is vital to bring clinicians in at the planning stage because they have to feel safe in delivering quality care. Clinicians can work with architects and organisations such as Vanguard, to create tailored spaces which meet their clinical needs, while remaining ‘standardised’ in terms of providing the best possible patient flow and experience, as well as staff experience. Not all projects will look the same – the layout, the flow and the adjacencies may all vary – but what is repeatable is the modular ‘platform’ which brings with it faster construction, economic savings and greater sustainable properties as a result of using off-site construction.
However, participants also thought it important to have ‘robust’ conversations with clinicians at early stages of the decision-making process to establish exactly what is needed to meet standards for both patients and staff, rather than perhaps what is desired or a ‘nice to have’. Those who took part agreed that clinicians on the whole want a good, high quality space which as well as providing an excellent patient experience is a space that is the most appropriate to maximise high volume low complexity cases with optimised patient flow and enough space that is close to the main hospital for access to emergency care if needed.
People often have a negative experience of modular construction in their personal lives, due to the wide-ranging definition of ‘modular’, and those misconceptions can often spill over into their professional approach to projects such as this, which may be the only time they ever work on a construction project of this scale.
Participants also felt that how the structure is described is also important as that affects the mindset of everyone using it; using words such as temporary or modular could, participants felt, imply lower quality environments whereas the reality is these structures are far from temporary, potentially lasting decades, being multi-purpose and high-quality environments.
Evidence-based design is also key, participants noted. Using the experience of professionals who have created many of these projects and know what works and what will meet compliance standards, is important – as is creating a space which is flexible both for short-medium term needs, but also longer-term. Showing clinicians buildings which are currently operational on other sites – where they can see, feel and experience the quality for themselves, has huge benefits.