by Alasdair Rankin |  23 Apr 2020


We have all been humbled and moved by the images of NHS and Care staff working to save lives during this crisis. As we stand to applaud their tireless efforts on Thursday evenings and as we pass rainbows in windows and thank-you messages on houses on our daily exercise we cannot fail to be aware of the human cost of this huge effort.


Those of us who commission, create and deliver healthcare environments have known for many years that the cost of maintaining existing and delivering new buildings was a constant challenge for the cash strapped sector.  We have seen healthcare staff delivering amazing levels of care despite the environment they work in, rather than being assisted and supported by it.  We also know that well designed, well maintained environments have a beneficial impact on the wellbeing of staff and patients as well as a positive impact on recovery.


In the short term specific measures to protect individuals, through PPE, appear to be the best, and easiest to implement response.  However as this crisis continues, and when we emerge into the new normal at the other side what will, and should, the impact be on the commissioning, design and delivery of healthcare environments?


What can be done in the design and planning of buildings to reduce the strain on this vital sector?


How can buildings and environments be developed to reduce transmission from patient to patient, and patient to staff member or care giver?   Do the standard planning modules for key spaces need to be reviewed and changed?   While the move to 100% single room accommodation in hospitals reduces patient to patient contact, it also increases staff journeys and interactions, reducing observation opportunities through traditional methods.


Can we deliver projects that are more flexible, that can be easily adapted to respond to changing needs and requirements?


How can hospitals and care environments support ongoing daily care and treatment for their patients and residents while also responding to an outbreak such as COVID-19?  Do we need to rethink the approach of limited entrances with multiple services accessed from an expansive hub?


Can the use of technology provide any of the answers?


Can patient to patient proximity be measured, monitored and managed through personal devices or wearable technology? Can wearable devices be used to monitor key patient metrics while in healthcare environments, giving real-time reporting and alerts to appropriate staff?  Can we use personal devices to prevent large numbers of patients, or residents in a care home, all congregating in one space, but without negatively restricting their freedom or human interaction?


Can we design or create to reduce non-essential contact between staff and patient or resident, without reducing the quality of care given or increasing feelings of isolation.


These are questions without answers right now, but if nothing else they should be problems that we seek to explore, answers that we work to uncover.  In many ways the design and construction industries are professional problem solvers, surely this is a sector that we should seek to help and improve now and for the future.


Globalisation is criticised for causing, amongst other problems, the rapid spread of COVID-19.  We believe that that global intelligence sharing, and collaboration can also help address the current crisis and help prepare us all for future challenges.


So as we stand and applaud on Thursday, as we pass the rainbows in house windows, we can also think of what we can do to support and improve healthcare environments once this current crisis passes.  How can we continue to support this vital sector once the news moves onto whatever will come next?  Please get in touch if you want to join this discussion.

© 2020 Aitken Turnbull