Hospital design and MMC: ensuring speed and efficiency are matched by quality

16th June 2021

Sheppard Robson Partner Alex Solk writes for Health Estate Journal on how Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) can ensure that our spaces for healthcare are designed for both speed and efficiency as well as quality.

MMC has been identified by Government as playing a key role in delivering the new generation of health and social care facilities outlined in the Health Infrastructure Programme (HIP) — an ambitious initiative that calls for quality and scale.

While the design perception of MMC is sometimes at odds with the technical opportunities it presents, the HIP offers a unique opportunity to raise the standard of MMC across the board, using new construction techniques while embracing an agile approach to repeatability.

A flexible approach to off-site construction puts the client and community voice at the heart of the design process and doesn’t restrict a hospital’s ability to make bold changes in response to future challenges. How exactly we should match repeatability, exactitude and speed with the complexities and opportunities of a site and unique brief needs careful consideration, with the role of the architect essential in ensuring speed and efficiency of delivery is matched by quality.

When administered in a thoughtful way, with built-in flexibility to engage with the specifics of a brief, MMC is not prescriptive and can adequately respond to a project’s exact brief, in terms of physical surrounding, future-proofing, and the pursuit of a new standard of staff wellness, amongst other ideas.

Health and care projects typically take a long time to deliver, making innovations that speed up construction programmes particularly relevant. On top of this, renewed focus has been placed on reconfiguring and replacing facilities in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, with the need for the quick roll-out of new facilities highlighted by the growing backlog of elective procedures.

By treating MMC as a kit of parts that can be reconfigured to engage with the specifics of a brief, large projects—such as those outlined by the HIP programme—can gain significant efficiencies, while maintaining high quality. Guidelines need to be balanced against the client brief, to account for bespoke community and client requirements.

A considered, quality-driven approach to the use of MMC also allows hospitals to build-in flexibility for the future. The Covid-19 pandemic has placed new pressures on our hospitals and highlighted the need for responsiveness to extreme conditions. A much greater percentage of consultations between clinicians and patients are now being delivered remotely (an approach greatly accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic) whilst there is also an increased demand for high dependency facilities that allow the isolation of individuals as well as cohorts of patients when necessary.

There is certainly a window of opportunity for architects to embrace the opportunities that MMC can offer. Success will hinge on getting the repeatable elements right and while integrating responsive design strategies. MMC could be a wonderful leveller, creating a consistent, high-quality standard for health and social care infrastructure across the county, and in order for this to happen, architectural design skill needs to be balanced with the pragmatism and efficiency of MMC.

Read the full article on Health Estate Journal.