Learning from China’s reaction to Coronavirus threat

UK health construction experts have said there is little learning that can be taken from China’s super-speedy approach to developing a hospital to deal with those affected by the killer Coronavirus.

Huoshenshan Hospital being built in China using modular construction
Huoshenshan Hospital being built in China using modular construction

In this country it can often take a decade from the initial business case being put forward to the doors opening on a new hospital development – a timescale that means once well-thought-out facilities no longer meet the needs of patients and staff by the time they are completed.

But, in the last month, China built a hospital to deal with those affected by the killer Coronavirus in just eight days.

With an estimated 1,000 beds, Huoshenshan Hospital utilises prefabricated units and is based on the design of Xiaotangshan Hospital, which was built in Beijing in 2003 to help contain the Sars virus.That hospital took 4,000 people just seven days to build.

How much can the UK learn from this feat?

“Not much” says Simon Kydd, head of healthcare at WSP. “As much as it looked amazing, what they built isn’t strictly a hospital. It’s a field hospital like the Army builds in war zones, there to serve a purpose in an emergency situation. And it’s unlikely to meet UK HBN standards or be efficient in terms of pathways. And it’s not biophilic or therapeutic design.”

He adds: “We can learn lessons in terms of reacting to certain emergency situations, like in the case of an epidemic or terrorist situation, or for large sporting events. But, in terms of taking any learning into how we design hospitals in the UK, it’s limited, if any.”

Slow take up of modular

"China’s modular approach is increasingly popular in the UK healthcare construction sector, but is failing to gain enough traction to overtake conventional techniques for the delivery of large hospital facilities” Simon adds.

“We have had lots of experience doing ward blocks and extensions, but the NHS doesn’t tend to turn to modular facilities for things like maternity wards or A&E, which are still largely traditional buildings. 

“It’s good for very-specific applications, but individual NHS trusts still want to do things their own way and are often constrained by existing building stock, so I don’t see this project changing things to any great degree.” 

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