High tides and good vibes

A wet and windy day in February seems a distance memory as I type this during the first heatwave of the summer. And I suspect the seaside at Poole in Dorset is a tad busier today than it was when I visited it four months ago.

But I didn’t go all that way (even in February) for an ice-cream and a nice day out. My trip was far more purposeful than that, a fact-finding site visit to another NHS trust hospital. The first our new hospital team had had due to Covid.

In normal times, such visits are part and parcel of any new hospital planning, so Michael Meredith and I were delighted to visit the team at Poole Hospital and learn about their development plans. It’s never too late for us to learn from the successes of others and to incorporate that learning into our plans for the future.

How Poole Hospital had utilised modern methods of construction (MMC) was very much the talking (and learning) point of the day. It was fascinating to see how the trust had maximised the use of standardisation – a key benefit of MMC – whilst ensuring their new structure fitted neatly on to their existing hospital.

They had cleverly managed to overcome the difficulties of a tight construction site as well as find smart solutions to the varying floor levels of their existing buildings. Imagine trying to match the level of an existing floor in a theatre to another floor in a brand new building without the need for an unsightly and often problematic steep ramp? I’m sure we’ve all seen that solution applied before, but we didn’t see it here!

Admittedly these aren’t problems the new Princess Alexandra Hospital would need to overcome in a brand new building on a greenfield site. However the clever way Poole Hospital utilised MMC none-the-less demonstrated its flexibility and the valuable skills of the advisers involved.

We’re very lucky in having a talented team of technical advisers working on our new hospital to ensure it is designed to be future-proof, with an easily repeatable layout that learns from the very best practice elsewhere. With no ramps needed.

But what is MMC? Quite simply, it’s an approach to constructing buildings quickly, reliably and sustainably. It often involves using as many standardised components as possible, made offsite before being transported to the building’s location for quick and easy installation. Think ready-made frames, walls, floors, roofs, facades and even entire rooms transported in.

The Covid-19 Nightingale Hospitals are one example of where MMC came into its own in terms of speed of delivery. During the initial throes of the pandemic, five field hospitals were able to be built in just a matter of weeks using offsite manufacturing and construction.

For the new Princess Alexandra Hospital, MMC will bring the benefit of standardised rooms and ward designs to create more efficient spaces. Staff will automatically know their way around a standard bedroom or clinic area, and in an emergency will know exactly where all the equipment is situated. Patients will know that the hospital they are visiting is built to a high standard and incorporates the most up to date technology available.

And MMC also affords genuinely flexible building design. Which means that our new hospital will be able to respond rapidly to whatever challenge comes our way in the future, be that the increasing demands of growing and ageing population or in the event of another pandemic.

MMC also enables us to be carbon neutral by 2050, a deadline set by Government which the NHS as a whole is committed to reaching by 2040. MMC will reduce our carbon footprint, not just through the ongoing operations of the hospital, but also during its construction. With MMC, fewer people are needed to work on site with fewer deliveries and less waste generated. Faster, better, greener.

But back to the seaside. Learning from Poole Hospital reinforced the benefits our new hospital will gain as part of the larger, national, new hospital programme (NHP). As part of this programme we’ll have the opportunity to learn from other hospital developments too, in particular the other 29 in the NHP. The problems being faced by all of the new hospitals are very similar to ours; the quality of the estate, increasing demand and lack of capacity, and the need to deliver a new holistic model of care.

If we’re all working together, sharing best practice, pooling our learning, we can hope to build the best new hospitals up and down the country.

Helen Davis
New hospital programme director