GUEST ARTICLE: Addressing the healthcare conundrum – the retrofit way

  • 12 Apr 2023

HealthcareAs we enter Q2 2023, public sector organisations are already navigating another challenging year. Tighter budgets, following a string of socioeconomic events, including the energy cost increases in 2022 and still rising interest rates, are leading to a decline in spending. Inflation is also making its mark. This article comes from Steve McSorley, director at independent civil and structural engineering consultancy, Perega…

“The healthcare system is one area that’s been particularly affected. Many facilities across the UK have longstanding infrastructural issues, with costly maintenance work desperately needed. This is compounded by the heightening operational pressures already being felt by the NHS.

Promised increases in funding from Government, such as a commitment to the New Hospitals Programme (NHP) and a realisation that heavy investment to revamp infrastructure is needed, have been welcome.

With those pledges, the potential for growth in healthcare construction is clear. However, given the current economic malaise, questions remain around how viable those commitments are.

Given just a quarter of the 40 hospitals listed under the NHP have obtained planning permission, Whitehall’s ambitious target of establishing 40 new hospitals by 2030 seems unlikely; especially, in light of widespread material and energy cost inflation.

That said, there are ways to increase efficiency and performance to ensure as many facilities are addressed as possible by this fast-approaching deadline. A carefully considered retrofit and redevelopment programme is just one option for providing both short- and long-term solutions with finite resources.

In many cases, this merely requires updating the existing building as opposed to demolition and new build.

There are many challenges in repurposing older healthcare buildings, not least fire resistance, the larger zones required for services voids than were necessary even 10 years ago, and the larger and heavier plant needed. Whilst cladding may have exceeded its useful life, a building structure kept behind a waterproof building envelope is likely to be capable of re-use if solutions to the challenges can be found.

Crucial catalyst

Whilst there are obvious practical motivators towards addressing the situation, the introduction of the latest NHS Net Zero Building Standards will provide a crucial catalyst. Its focus on decarbonisation and increasing standardisation means there’s now a commitment from the NHS to embrace low-carbon approaches, which will promote the enhancement of the lifespan of existing hospitals.

Where new-build is the preferred option, the use of componentisation and standardisation in the form of a ‘Platform’ structure or a modular building can provide a cost-effective, code-compliant, and low-waste method to reinforce our healthcare assets. By having standardised structural components, we can improve the efficiency of the frame construction and cut the level of site based activity – reducing waste and improving site safety, all while reducing the works programme.

There’s no hiding from the challenge at hand – the scale of the job is considerable, but there’s also an opportunity to help transform and revitalise our health service. We can do this by utilising cutting-edge technology and modern construction methods, thus easing the strain on healthcare projects, and ensuring they are delivered on time and within the required budgets.”

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