News - March 2018
Hospitals go mobile
Newspaper reports in recent weeks have highlighted the current crisis within the NHS, with appointments being cancelled and hospitals lacking the beds and staff they need to meet the needs of a growing number of patients.
But the healthcare estate could have a part to play in helping to overcome these problems.
In particular, offsite construction methods offer significant opportunities to help address demand and provide the additional infrastructure needed, whether that is solely during the busy winter period, or on a more long-term basis.
And, of these methods, mobile buildings perhaps offer the biggest lifeline.
Looking to the future
Suzie Nield, EMS Healthcare’s business delivery manager, said: “Mobile medical units are an option that NHS trusts are turning to for the smooth delivery of patient care when disruption is suspected, often due to capacity strain, department refurbishment, or to quickly respond to emergency situations.
“Traditionally, they were utilised in a reactive way, but with the ageing population, and more patients at risk of chronic health conditions, capacity strains no longer come as a surprise, meaning issues can be identified earlier.
“What we’re now seeing is an increasing number of NHS trusts recognising the benefits of embracing a pro-active approach to managing demand.
“Decision-makers are looking ahead and identifying times in the year when they know strain or disruption is likely, and then planning for the use of mobile units during these periods.”
EMS’s fleet has been designed and adapted over the years to meet the sector’s ever-more-specific needs.
Nield said: “Our units are providing additional capacity for a range of healthcare specialities including ophthalmology, endoscopy, renal dialysis and infusion, and are in some cases creating up to 250 additional patient slots a week.
“The quality and versatility of these units is now so high that many patients prefer being treated on board a mobile or modular facility than in the hospital setting - with 90% of patients finding attending mobile units more convenient.”
Not only can mobile units be shifted around on hospital sites, but they can also be taken into communities, for example offering breast cancer screening in supermarket carparks. This move has been found to increase take-up of critical services.
Putting patients first
But, while units are being used to ease capacity challenges; mobile solutions are also helping to improve the patient experience.
“As demands on the NHS continue to rise, ensuring a positive patient experience is going to be extremely important,” said Nield.
“Mobile units, in particular, have the capability to offer unprecedented levels of patient care, whether through the convenience of the location for those unable to travel far, or through low-cost, stress-free car parking.
“The key difference they offer when compared with traditional buildings is, without doubt, the ease and speed of installation.
“Units can be modified to meet needs of hospitals at a fraction of the cost and time associated with relocation within their current estate, or to build new, static premises.”
EMS has recently worked with both St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust.
At Frimley Park Hospital there was a waiting list backlog for ophthalmology.
To address this, EMS supplied a Liberty mobile unit.
Comprising two interconnecting 40ft medical trailers, the move resulted in an additional 12,500 clinic slots created per year and has reduced waiting times from one hour 21 minutes to just 32 minutes on board the unit.
The right solution
And, at St George’s, a review called for the trust to urgently rebuild its 120-year-old Knightsbridge Wing; leaving the hospital faced with the prospect of relocating its entire renal department to other locations, hospitals, or to satellite dialysis sites.
Instead, EMS’s Liberty Quad Renal Unit was brought in and now successfully facilitates uninterrupted services for patients directly at the hospital site and with the same clinical team.
More recently, the manufacturer has unveiled its latest offering, the first mobile decontamination unit for endoscope reprocessing, which was created in conjunction with health trusts across the UK.
Previously, in order to maintain service continuity, providers had to either use external decontamination services - an expensive process that can take days to complete - or transfer the decontamination suite to a new location within the hospital estate, which can often result in ward closures.
The Quest+ mobile system means hospitals can now continue endoscope reprocessing services on site more cost effectively and without disruption or any impact on capacity.
“It is collaborations such as this that will shape the way mobile solutions are used in the years to come, and means we will almost certainly continue to see mobile units being used across an increasing range of healthcare specialties,” said Nield.
Also seeing an increase in demand for its fleet of mobile healthcare solutions is Vanguard Healthcare.
It recently developed a purpose-built, 6,600sq m transport and logistics facility in Manningtree as part of a major expansion programme.
The unit has the capacity to house its full fleet of 50 mobile healthcare units which include mobile theatres, endoscopy units, day surgery facilities, and mobile wards and outpatient clinics.
To make it easier for cash-strapped NHS trusts to utilise these solutions, the company offers rental of units for between one day and several years. They can also be supplied fully equipped or ready to fit out.
It is this flexibility that also makes mobile solutions popular.
Nield said: “Our mobile buildings come complete with all utilities and can be adapted to suit the trust and the purpose for which they are being used. For example, they can include waiting areas, changing rooms, toilets, clean and dirty utilities, and security systems. This means they are easy to set up and are ready to go as soon as they are on site, making them very popular with health trusts.”
In the future, she predicts that suppliers will continue to work with healthcare trusts to innovate through mobile and modular units that can be modified to provide solutions to a number of challenges.
“As NHS trusts continue to become more commercial in their thinking, we anticipate increased collaboration, which will in turn bring forward new, bespoke solutions that respond quickly and cost effectively to demand,” she added.