Reinventing our hospitals

14th January 2021

The North West is embracing a new generation of hospitals, placing wellness and community at the heart of the design process, writes Alex Solk for Place North West.

Hospital design is ripe for radical reinvention. Traditionally, investment has focused on clinical advances and technology in healthcare, whilst the hospital environment — and the way it embraces new thinking — has often been overlooked. Of course, clinical advances are crucial, but we are starting to see a changing of mindset. With the scale of the government’s new Health Infrastructure Plan, we have a real opportunity for a significant reappraisal of what hospitals can be.

Increasingly, healthcare institutions are asking: how can our healthcare services be embedded within communities, rather than isolated, institutionalised facilities? How can wellness design principles, which are so prevalent in other sectors, reshape the whole hospital experience? How can the NHS and healthcare operators attract and retain the best staff?

For North Manchester General Hospital, a project laying new foundations for the healthcare sector, we seek to engage and address these questions through design. Hospitals, and many other public services, have operated on the same transactional model for years: arrive, wait, consultation or treatment, leave. While other types of buildings, from shopping centres to airports, have realised that purely linear and transactional facilities lead to underwhelming and foreboding experiences.

Our designs at NMGH work hard to create more convivial spaces, where patients and visitors can relax safely and decompress, both prior to and after their appointment, with the development oriented around a central “village green” space and indoor “hub”. Significant time and energy have been invested in the quality of these public spaces.

Outdoor spaces soften the edges of the large development, merge seamlessly into the indoor hub, while creating a less intimidating and institutional space that is integrated with the wider community. Once in the hospital a series of more than two dozen courtyards provide respite from the clinical areas of the hospital.

A more enjoyable, varied environment has an important bearing on NHS staff. Our designs re-imagine time in between shifts and on breaks. The importance of NHS staff has rightly been a huge focus during Covid-19; from rainbows in windows to clapping on doorsteps, we have seen a public outpouring of appreciation. While this appreciation is invaluable, it must also be met with better working conditions to make NHS staff feel rightly valued and well looked after. A radical rethink of the spaces they work and rest in could go a long way to achieving this.

Read the full article here.