• Oliver Hudson

We’re Building New Hospitals, But What Should They Look Like?

What’s a few billion pounds between friends? Last year, the Prime Minister announced £3.7bn plans to build 40 new hospitals in the UK by 2030. Subsequent reporting raised doubts over just how much of that money would be spent on genuinely “new” hospitals, with the majority of funds seemingly directed towards existing sites. Political spin aside, some new hospitals are being built; so what should they look like? COVID-19 has caused a surge of innovation within science and healthcare, from vaccine production to diagnostics and rapid test kits, and this fresh momentum should extend to how we design spaces too.


How COVID-19 Might Impact Healthcare Design


The most obvious place to start is ventilation. COVID-19 has shown the risks associated with poor ventilation, and effective air purification will now be a prerequisite for healthy environments. Designers will also have to be mindful of future social distancing requirements; waiting rooms and car parks may have to be larger than is currently the norm and smaller single bed rooms are likely to be in high demand. That’s not to mention the wider cultural shifts that have been accelerated by the pandemic. Virtual consultations have exploded during lockdown, with patients and clinicians - unable to meet in-person - staying connected via phone calls or video chat. Now that patients have experienced the convenience of virtual care, it may be difficult to turn back the clock. How might such a shift impact the infrastructure expected within hospitals and GP’s surgeries, where WIFI speeds and legacy tech softwares are typically poor?


This shift comes at a moment when expectations of healthcare are changing. With wearable technology now the norm and smartphones in every pocket, the average person now has access to their health data in real time. How does this transparency sit with the experience of most people today, where getting access to their medical records feels slow and confusing? Patients now expect digitally enabled and seamlessly connected interactions with care providers, mirroring their experience with other sectors like banking or retail.




It’s not just about a greater adoption of technology, hospitals of the future are likely to look very different to what we see today. If I asked you to close your eyes and think of a hospital ward, what comes to mind? Chances are you’ve pictured a sterile white box, but do these environments promote health? Some of the most interesting research into hospital design examines the role of nature in promoting healing. Even images of nature may be beneficial; one study* found that hanging landscapes on the wall reduced anxiety and promoted recovery compared with bare white walls. It’s time to re-think what we expect hospitals to look like and an emerging new care class might show the way.


What Can We Learn From Later Living?


Britain’s population is ageing and in recent years we have seen a boom in specialised housing for older people. But gone are the beige rooms and cheap pine; an emerging class of providers are ensuring that retirement homes are now genuinely pleasant places to spend time. One organisation leading the way is the Legal & General-backed Guild Living; Give My View has recently been employed by Guild Living, who have ambitious plans to build thousands of new homes over the coming years. Their focus is on creating intergenerational communities within urban environments; creating eco-designed homes within green campus environments and place a great emphasis on diverse and exciting ground floor uses.


One thing that stuck out in their public consultation was the community’s insistence of integrated healthcare within later-living housing. On average, accessible healthcare was voted the top priority against things like location proximity to town centre, community access to amenities, and promoting inclusivity. 32% of the community said that better healthcare options would single-handedly motivate them to live in a development like Guild Living; one-quarter of the voters stated access to wellbeing facilities was their motivating factor. Also, less than a third of voters, including non-care residents like students, local community members, and workers, believed they would benefit from a new health hub in the proposed development. From wellness clubs to flexible workspace, these developments are changing the expectations of what a later living development should be and hospitals and other care facilities should look to them as inspiration.


Conclusion


The one constant over the last year has been change. As we emerge from the pandemic and continue to wrestle with practical considerations and wider cultural shifts, this trend looks set to continue. As always, those best placed to know how to respond are those that know how to listen and the best way to know what patients want is to ask them.