The New Hospital Programme (NHP) delivery team is planning a major event in September where trust schemes and healthcare industry suppliers will gather for a day of “challenge and innovation”. It’s an example of the focus on partnership working that the team is keen to pursue in bringing the UK Government’s manifesto commitment to build 40 hospitals across England by 2030 – as well as a further eight already in construction – to fruition.
Addressing delegates at EHD 2022, Natalie Forrest, senior responsible owner of the NHP, said working in partnership is a practical route to delivery in the current economic climate.
“No longer is it possible to just pass on all of the risk and challenge of building hospitals to [our suppliers],” she said. “In this environment where there is so much going on, so much challenge around inflation and materials and labour, you have to work in partnership. So, we’re completely committed to changing the way we work together.”
In line with the partnership approach, one of the aims of the programme is to create an ecosystem that allows everyone to participate in the process, “so they own, learn from and improve healthcare design”.
And with the building of “intelligent hospitals”, Forrest explained the plan is to digitally empower staff and patients, enable hospitals without walls, and construct smart facilities, in order to “use these buildings to try to tackle some of the sustainability and climate challenges we’re facing”.
While there are concerns about AI or digital health potentially adding to clinicians’ workloads, Forrest stressed that the aim is to overlay digital solutions, not to make life more difficult for staff but to free up their time so they can devote more attention to the tasks they have been clinically trained to do.
The experience of the pandemic has also clearly demonstrated the importance of wellbeing for patients and healthcare staff in the hospital environment. The NHP delivery team plans to respond by factoring in more design features that support and provide natural light, space, and green environments.
“We have to do everything to support the workforce,” said Forrest. “We have to make it easy for them to do their jobs – that is our challenge. That’s not just about technology, it’s about what facilities they have to make their job easier. We have spent the last years taking away staff changing rooms and staff rest rooms, in order to repurpose that space for other things. We’ve got to stop doing that – this workforce deserves the same quality of facilities as people who work in an office environment.”
And responding to reports that public satisfaction with the NHS has nosedived since the early months of the pandemic, Forrest remarked that satisfaction isn’t necessarily about “the actual care they receive, but it’s the time it takes for them to receive their care, and sometimes the facilities within which they work or the frustrations that they experience by seeing the stress that we put on our workforce”.
She added: “Just having a new building doesn’t help that, but if it’s designed in a way that understands the workforce challenges and the experience that patients want, then we have an opportunity to help the NHS be a vehicle for success.”
Forrest then went on to explain how the programme divides up into different projects and timelines.
The first group comprises the additional eight hospitals already in construction, which she described as core to the team’s learning, particularly in building some of the relationships with its suppliers, and in dealing with some of the challenges experienced during Covid, and around other issues such as cladding, Brexit, and inflation.
A group of ten schemes, which are fairly small, are soon to move into construction, having recently gained approval from the Treasury.
The pathfinders cohort comprises a few very large hospitals that need to be redeveloped. These, explained Forrest, are already “very developed in their thinking around their design and their plans”, so this group is likely to provide plenty of learning for future hospital schemes.
The fourth cohort is named the “full adopters”, which aim to maximise the benefits of working in the national programme. “We’ll work collaboratively with them to develop a new way of building healthcare infrastructure for the NHS,” Forrest explained, adding that the final cohort comprises a further eight hospitals set to be announced later this year.
‘Better, faster, greener’
Finally, she explained how the NHP is a pathfinder project for Project Speed – one of the prime minister’s initiatives to support infrastructure programmes across government, with a mantra of ‘better, faster and greener’. The ‘better’ element of the NHP delivery involves standardising best practice and developing a common, standard approach so less time is spent designing and innovating on an individual basis.
The ‘faster’ element involves speeding up and streamlining the approvals process for building hospitals, in addition to incorporating the latest thinking on modern methods of construction to accelerate development of the programmes and to capitalise on offsite manufacturing.
And in regard to the climate challenge, Forrest said the new hospitals delivered under the programme will be greener, too, creating: less waste in manufacture – through optimised designs and materials, combined with standardised production at scale; less waste in assembly – through off-site manufacture, increased productivity on site, and streamlined logistics; and less waste in operation – through repeatable, right-sized designs optimised for energy efficiency.