Modular construction: equipping the NHS to meet current and future demand

Kirk Taylor, head of development at Kajima Partnerships, reveals the crucial role offsite construction will play in addressing the pressures faced by the NHS

With leading surgeons recently describing the impact of COVID-19 on waiting time targets across the NHS as a ‘wrecking ball’, it has become increasingly clear that mitigating the impacts of Coronavirus does not simply mean providing crucial care to patients suffering from COVID-19, but also continuing to support patients across the healthcare system.

However, despite the best efforts of staff; the unprecedented strain placed on the NHS this spring has exacerbated problematic waiting times for patients requiring other vital services.

In order to equip our healthcare system with the means to meet current and future demand; decision-makers across Government and NHS trusts must explore effective opportunities to increase NHS capacity

So, in order to equip our healthcare system with the means to meet current and future demand; decision-makers across Government and NHS trusts must explore effective opportunities to increase NHS capacity.

A pandemic in waiting times

NHS staff have rightly been praised for their work in keeping services running through the intensely-pressurised period of the pandemic.

However, it will take further investment to solve what has, sadly, become a systemic problem of unacceptably-long waiting times.

By law, 92% of patients should wait no longer than 18 weeks for hospital treatment. But, this spring, only half of the 3.86 million patients on waiting lists received treatment within this timeframe.

While this situation was due partly to the suspension of most planned surgery, in an understandable attempt to stem the spread of COVID-19; the number of patients left waiting for vital treatment is nonetheless cause for concern.

It will take further investment to solve what has, sadly, become a systemic problem of unacceptably-long waiting times

The number of those who had waited more than 52 weeks surpassed 50,000 in June and, although there are signs of a tentative recovery, a second wave of Coronavirus and a spike in flu cases is a lethal combination that could well see the situation deteriorate again this winter.

However, although Coronavirus has acted as a catalyst, this is not a problem caused entirely by the pandemic.

By the end of 2019, essential parts of the NHS in England were already experiencing the worst performance against waiting time targets since the targets were set, while the target for treating cancer patients within 62 days of referral had not been met for more than five years.

The next step is clear; we must adopt innovative solutions to address delays and get all services back on track.

And modular construction methods could provide the answer.

Kirk Taylor

Modular construction can deliver surgery units, rapid diagnostic centres,and post-op facilities at speed and scale in a cost-effective and viable way.

I believe this is an ideal remedy for the current situation that will help the NHS of today be best placed to tackle the challenges of the future.

Facilitating expansion

If anything, the efforts of NHS staff both before and during the pandemic have prevented the gulf between service supply and demand from growing any wider.

They have done a fantastic job under the circumstances. But now it is time to ensure that capacity increases so that patients’ needs can be met efficiently in both the short and long term.

We have already seen a number of innovations begin to tackle the challenge of delivering healthcare services in a society affected by Coronavirus, in terms of meeting social-distancing regulations as well as increased demand for services.

For example, the use of private-sector facilities and some of the Nightingale hospitals have helped alleviate some of the strain on existing NHS resources.

However, if we are to solve the problem of increased waiting times in the long term, we will need a solution capable of working at sufficient speed and on a large-enough scale to deliver capacity across multiple sites.

Enter offsite modular construction, a faster, safer, sustainable and more-cost-effective means of building new facilities to meet the demand for vital NHS services.

A second wave of Coronavirus and a spike in flu cases is a lethal combination that could well see the situation deteriorate again this winter

Once designed, stringent quality assurance, combined with efficient manufacturing process, allows for the rapid deployment of accommodation across the country.

Indeed, if NHS England could ‘type approve’ key facilities, such as rapid diagnostic suites, rollout times could be further reduced by obviating multiple localised business case submissions.

Furthermore, modular facilities can be procured using rental models which set hire periods that reflect the projected demand for the service, recognising medium-term use of long-term facilities.

This pandemic has shown that the NHS can adapt remarkably quickly to new ways of working, and offsite construction offers a viable solution for generating a rapid response.

The time taken to complete new builds would be significantly reduced by undertaking multiple stages of construction at the same time, and minimising construction traffic around the site would mitigate disruption to existing facilities.

An additional advantage of offsite construction is its capacity to ensure the maintenance of proper health and safety regulations, including social distancing.

These measures are far easier to implement in the highly-engineered factory environments in which modular construction takes place, as well as driving improvements to quality as a result of the controlled setting in which buildings are manufactured.

Indeed, long-term improvements in building performance can be readily achieved by modular construction, such as increased air tightness, which reduces the need for active systems in the building, such as heating, and helps NHS estates to move closer to their zero-carbon goals.

The fact that modular structures can be relocated and reused also provides a clear opportunity for the NHS to adopt zero waste, ‘cradle to cradle’ principles.

If we are to solve the problem of increased waiting times in the long term, we will need a solution capable of working at sufficient speed and on a large-enough scale to deliver capacity across multiple sites

So, not only can offsite manufacturing help to reduce capacity pressures on the NHS; it can do so more sustainably than traditional construction methods.

Present and future

Ultimately, building new facilities offsite enables construction to take place more speedily and safely, ensuring that waiting times are significantly slashed and that services can flex according to new or seasonal pressures, without compromising on integrity of structure or intelligence of design.

As we reach a critical point for our health services, decision-makers must ensure that the NHS is built to face the challenges of tomorrow as well as today.

Modular construction provides the best means of doing just that, supporting an increase in capacity, improving resilience in the face of seasonal pressures, and working towards the goal of keeping waiting times under control for good.

Companies