Navigating the World of designing healthcare spaces

The demands of healthcare architecture are entirely unique to its own regulations, needs and complexities. Philip Ruffle, Director at Munday + Cramer, outlines the wide scope of considerations on how space is used and why offsite thinking can help.

Over the past few months the pandemic has changed the way people interact with healthcare spaces. It has forced design and architecture to accommodate these changes at a rapid pace, but this could prove to be a positive shift as it better prepares facilities moving forward.

There is no other sector that requires such intricate planning and consideration than healthcare, especially when it comes to health and safety. Architecture and design plays a huge part in helping healthcare spaces prioritising patient well-being and being able to do their jobs as efficiently as possible. A poorly planned space can have detrimental effects on the success of a facility as it can become disjointed and not fit for purpose.

The pandemic in particular has highlighted the importance of meticulous planning as well as collaborating across different sectors. From design and construction to technology and hygiene these all need to work in unison with one another – architecture is not the only part at play. When it comes to patient health and wellbeing there is essentially no margin for error. Everything must flow seamlessly to relieve strain on our system and for patients to receive the best care.

There are set regulations that we can use as guidelines when starting a plan. They must be adhered to throughout the whole process and are checked regularly by the Care Quality Commission (CQC). The body oversee the entire healthcare sector from the day to day running and processes, right down to the most intricate architecture. There are many sources we use for finding out the key principals set out by the body, but by providing guidance they actually simplify some of the complexities we deal with in the design process. Some examples of the requirements that have to be adhered to can be found in regulation 15, for instance. It's outlined that healthcare premises should:

• Provide ease of access.

• Include adequate support facilities and amenities.

• Be large enough to accommodate the proposed number of patients.

• Be appropriately located.

Similar guidance can also be found in the Government's 'Health Technical Memorandum' and the Department of Health's 'Health Building Notes'. These documents offer clear suggestions to architects on effective practices for designing healthcare facilities.

The term 'healthcare facilities', covers a very broad area, involving a lot of different services, from hospitals and GP Surgeries to cosmetic clinics and private practices. Each of these have their own unique set of demands. However, what is consistent across them all, is of course the need to prioritise patient welfare, but also to be flexible.

The past few months especially has highlighted the need for spaces to be versatile. During the pandemic, many healthcare spaces have had to become dual purpose in many instances, having to adapt what the facility was built for to accommodate the demand and pressures. Modular design and builds can be hugely beneficial in this instance. Not only do they allow for a quick turnaround, but they also allow greater flexibility than a traditional build.

A great example of how this came into play recently was with the COVID-19 response facility. The project integrated site-ready modular spaces, which made building a fully functioning facility possible in such a short space of time. This type of build can have huge benefits in a time like this when there is increased pressure and over stretched resources. These include and are not limited to, being more cost effective, reducing time spent on-site and not having to store materials on site. Equally, there is the potential that as we see more of this moving forward, there will be huge health and safety management benefits due to the reduced hours spent on-site.  

Hygiene and social distancing are two of the most talked about things at the moment and this isn't set to change any time soon. One of the main elements that has changed in terms of design across the board is the need for space. There has had to be a huge focus on spatial planning, ensuring things are set up in a way that allows people to keep their distances. This applies to facilities across all sectors but is particularly vital for healthcare.

With a heavy footfall and large concentration of people with infectious diseases and spreadable viruses passing through the doors, permanent social distancing may be a positive move for the sector. However, when the pandemic is over and people become less mindful, the design of a facility can encourage this by including more spacious rooms laid out to encourage distancing or even separate rooms where possible. Ultimately this is a good way to improve both patient wellbeing and experience as places feel less crowded and overwhelming.

One of the key players tying spacious design and modular builds together in healthcare design is augmented reality. As mentioned, many pre-fabricated components for modular builds can be manufactured offsite. These include roof trusses, wall sections (such as SIPS), cladding systems and brick slips, which are often used on prefabricated buildings to give the illusion of a 'traditional' finish such as brickwork. With this in mind, made to measure techniques are often key, which is assisted hugely by the improvements to CAD/BIM and modelling, but augmented reality systems also aid visualisation".

COVID-19 has shaken things up for the architectural design industry and forced change to happen quickly. It's changed everyone's behaviour, including the way people interact both with healthcare spaces. Architects have had to adapt at the same pace to accommodate new demands. It's likely encouraged improvements that healthcare will benefit from for years to come as the shifts prioritise hygiene, act to minimise the spread of germs and provides flexibility. We have also now seen how versatile healthcare spaces can be, with modular and prefabricated buildings coming into play now more than ever.

Overall, design in this sector is constantly evolving. We have seen how technology such as AR and even 3D printing have aided rapid improvements over the past few years, helping modular design and builds to take place. There has been a lot learnt with a greater emphasis on patient experience paired with its primary function of prioritising welfare.

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