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News archive - March 2015

Is off-site construction the answer to hospital crisis?

Is off-site construction the answer to hospital crisis?

Reports over recent months of hospitals struggling to deal with an influx of patients over the busy winter period have led to calls for trusts to adopt more-innovative solutions to the lack of space.

As casualty department bear the brunt of failures in out-of-hours primary care services, acute hospitals up and down the country have been forced to close emergency departments, cancel planned surgery, and have routinely failed to meet government waiting time targets. A large number of centres also declared ‘major incidents’ after unprecedented pressures forced them to turn patients away.

But there is a solution to this ongoing problem and that lies in modern off-site construction methods.

Speaking to hdm, Nick Griffin, head of regions at Portkabin Hire, said: “We are definitely seeing increased demand for a range of fully-serviced interim healthcare buildings – surge wards to provide additional capacity during peak winter periods and for buildings such as surgical clinical decision units to reduce the pressure on A&E departments.

“These buildings can be supplied in a matter of days and can also be used to create walk-in assessment units directly attached to A&E departments, enabling trusts to prioritise and reduce waiting times for more-urgent cases.”

EMS Healthcare has also seen increased interest in its off-site modular and mobile buildings from NHS and private healthcare operators.

Chief executive, Keith Austin, said: “This isn’t the first time that we’ve seen pressure on A&E escalate at this time of year, and it won’t be the last. We’re increasingly receiving enquiries from trusts looking for a new type of accommodation assistance to solve their individual crisis needs. And we’ve seen first-hand how trusts, clinical commissioning groups and health partners can work together to deliver this type of solution for the benefit of all.”

Examples of where this approach has been used include at The Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow, Essex, where Portakabin Hire delivered a fully-serviced 20-bed modular ward facility to provide additional space over the winter. This was supplied in 10 weeks and is being hired for an initial one-year period.

The 747sq m building boasts a mix of four-bed and single ensuite rooms, a large reception area, nursing station, shower rooms, kitchen, utility rooms, quiet room and stores and came complete with climate control systems, data communications, fire alarms, nurse call systems, bedhead trunking, medical gas services, automated doors, video entry, furnishings and a link bridge to the main hospital.

Watford General Hospital has also used the company’s solutions for a surge ward to reduce the pressure on emergency care services.

And EMS Healthcare has provided solutions for Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which relieved pressure on its busy A&E department over winter by installing a temporary urgent care centre.

In less than a week a 100sq m ready-made medical trailer was set up outside the A&E department. Connected by a covered walkway, patients with minor injuries were referred to, and treated within, the temporary facility. It provided them with three additional consultation rooms supported by a main waiting area with separate children’s area, reception and toilets as well as a private office for staff.

Griffin said: “These projects illustrate how interim building solutions, developed off site, can be used to help healthcare providers meet waiting list targets and response times during peak periods and while longer-term plans for expansion are progressed.”

Wernick Buildings has provided a critical decision unit to deal with increasing patient numbers at the Princess Royal University Hospital in Kent.

Working with architects and surveyors, Wilby and Burnett, it created an off-site bodular facility that was then sited in an existing ambulance bay adjacent to the accident and emergency ward.

Simon Reffell, director of Wernick Buildings, said: “Traditional methods of construction may have taken more than twice as long to deliver this building, and that’s without factoring in possible weather delays.

“Quite apart from having the extra facilities that much sooner, a shorter build time also reduces the disruption to the rest of the hospital. This really is an excellent example of how modular can offer innovative solutions for complicated construction projects.”

Austin added: “Temporary NHS-approved facilities like this are flexible, they can be tailored to meet specific needs, and can be set-up on site within days without the need of structural alterations or craning.

“They provide a comfortable and reassuring clinical environment for both medical staff and patients. So, while seasonal surge in healthcare demand continues, we have to ask whether turnkey temporary facilities should more regularly appear on a healthcare provider’s checklist of solutions at this time of year.”

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