Pandemic highlights challenges for healthcare premises

COVID-19 shines light on 'woefully inadequate' estates that do not allow for social distancing

Primary care property developer, Assura, commissioned the survey and says its recent developments illustrate how modern buildings can improve care provision

The coronavirus pandemic has created many challenges for NHS services and its staff.

But it has also highlighted problems with the physical estate and has led to calls for a change in the way it operates in the future.

In a YouGov survey of healthcare workers, commissioned by Assura, more than a quarter – 27% – of respondents said healthcare buildings ‘didn’t work well’ for the services they have provided over the last three months.

Hospitals were built when populations were smaller and the number of services and disciplines within the hospital were much smaller

And while GP surgeries performed most consistently well; the survey found that more needs to be done across health organisations to make spaces fit for the future.

The study focused on both the public and private sector to help inform the approach to designing primary care spaces post-COVID-19.

Probing professionals working in hospitals, health centres, GP surgeries and mental health sites; the feedback included that corridors were too narrow to allow social distancing when passing another person; rooms were too small for wheelchair users; staff rooms were unsatisfactory; and some old buildings were generally not fit-for-purpose.

While just over half – 55% – of professionals said sites they’d used were fit for purpose during the past three months, others said healthcare premises had ‘not worked that well’ or ‘at all well’ for the services provided within, according to the survey.

Concerns were raised about a lack of space to implement social distancing in both clinical and staff areas, infection risk in older buildings, and inflexible layouts across organisations.

In particular, respondents said that bed spaces are not 2m apart and the design of ward areas prevents spacing to allow social distancing to happen.

And there is not enough space for staff to consistently maintain social distancing.

In addition, there were not enough side rooms or negative-pressure rooms

The last three months have showed us just how much more there is to do – shining a light like never before on the flexibility and innovation needed to create the right environments for the care we’ll need in our communities in future

Respondents were also asked about what they would want to see in community medical centre buildings of the future, based on their experiences of care during the pandemic so far.

And the most popular features were:

  • More flexible space which can be adapted quickly when needed (70%)
  • The ability to divide the building or isolate specific areas (64%)
  • Both face-to-face consulting rooms and smaller remote consulting spaces (52%)
  • External spaces for both patients and staff (49%)
  • Intercom for communicating with patients outside the building or in different zones (42%)
  • Room for more on-site treatments away from hospital (41%)

One of the healthcare professionals quizzed for the research said: “Hospitals were built when populations were smaller and the number of services and disciplines within the hospital were much smaller.

“They are now all woefully lacking in space for teams to operate efficiently, let alone with social distancing.”

Commenting on the findings, Assura chief executive, Jonathan Murphy, added: “For a number of years now, we’ve been working on what we see as the medical centre design of the future – exploring how the physical design and layout will work with primary care’s growing use of digital technology, remote consultation and diagnostics.

“The last three months have showed us just how much more there is to do – shining a light like never before on the flexibility and innovation needed to create the right environments for the care we’ll need in our communities in future.

Clearly, we all hope we’ll never experience a situation like this again – but there is so much we can learn from it to create the health spaces of the future

“This includes embedding greater use of digital technology in primary care and to give healthcare professionals the workplaces they want to see.

“Clearly, we all hope we’ll never experience a situation like this again – but there is so much we can learn from it to create the health spaces of the future.”

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