A positive prognosis for construction and modern healthcare. By Chris MacLeod

Construction has an important role to play in shaping the future of the healthcare sector.

As an industry, we must continue to innovate and work smarter to help meet the challenges of an under-pressure healthcare system being bombarded by multiple pressures. An uncertain political landscape, the lasting legacy of austerity and a decline in capital investment in the NHS continue to pose tough questions about the future availability of funding and staff.

Improvements in medical care, lifestyle and diet also mean that we’re living longer. As a population, we’re collectively getting older, a fact borne out within Office for National Statistics research. Eighteen per cent of us are now aged 65 and over while 2.4 per cent are aged 85 and over. Indeed, the ageing population is having a direct impact on the healthcare sector, placing a significant strain on already under resourced services.

Of course, construction doesn’t have all of the answers to resolve these complex, societal issues. However, as an industry, we possess the expertise to collaboratively implement solutions that can ease the burden and make a meaningful contribution.

Progress
At GRAHAM, we continue to construct new, large-scale hospital buildings. Schemes such as the Baird and Anchor projects for NHS Grampian within its Foresterhill Health Campus in Aberdeen (£134m), the Ulster Hospital Acute Services Block (£95m) and the Replacement Acute Mental Health Inpatient Facility at Belfast City Hospital (£33m) can all help address the pressures faced by the NHS.

However, a trend is developing whereby a much greater proportion of clients are now focusing on lower cost refurbishment and expansion projects, particularly improvement works centred on strengthening sustainability and carbon reduction.

As an example, in collaboration with the Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust, we are upgrading its New Cross Hospital (Wolverhampton), Cannock Chase Hospital (Staffordshire) and wider estate to the value of £20m.

Looking forward, a higher volume of key construction opportunities will emanate from the primary care sector, with the shift towards integrated primary care hubs continuing at pace. The integrated model reflects the flow of investment away from secondary care and hospital infrastructure, to the creation of primary and community care facilities that accelerate the delivery of services outside of the acute hospital system.

Research has indicated that hubs reduce admissions into A&E through earlier intervention and the provision of integrated services closer to home. Furthermore, we’ve seen the positive impact that innovation in design can have in significantly enhancing the delivery of social care – and how the effective utilisation of space, where GP practices, pharmacies and step-down inpatient beds are all situated in one development, greatly assists the reduction of ‘bed blocking’ in hospitals.

At this juncture, it’s worth noting that the combined market value for the care of the elderly is estimated to be worth over £22bn for both residential care and non-residential care. This represents a huge sum of money.

Clearly there are opportunities to add value in this sphere and positively influence the future direction of new build, capital programmes that promote patient-centred, dignified care.

Defined goals
The Government is also working closely with the industry to achieve defined goals. Within its ‘Construction 2025’ strategy paper it has set out an ambitious vision for the next six years.

Among its ‘clear and defined’ aspirations are the lowering of construction costs by 33 per cent and the delivery of projects 50 per cent faster from ‘inception to completion, for newbuild and refurbished assets’.

Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) present an obvious route to achieve these targets, and the wide-scale adoption of off-site modular solutions can have an enormous impact on healthcare, namely by delivering increased capacity – faster.

The mass production capabilities associated with MMC can still be combined with a bespoke approach, so that buildings have the flexibility to meet the changing needs of healthcare professionals and patients. In turn, standardised design, the development of standard components, and repeatable room designs can play an influential role in streamlining processes and reducing costs.

In fact, our Healthcare Framework team recently standardised a number of principal components across three key projects, resulting in approximately ten per cent savings in supply chain costs, capital costs and on-going maintenance for the NHS.

Digital technology
Complementing MMC, digital technology delivers multiple benefits, including the production of a built environment that is not just more economical to build, but more economical to run and operate long-term.

The use of Building Information Modelling (BIM) provides a data rich representation of the healthcare estate, and forms the basis of an effective facilities management system that can be used to make informed decisions on refurbishment and renovation beyond the initial construction phase.

Equally, the speed of technological advance, such as robotics, artificial intelligence and automation, also means that buildings designed with anything up to a 60-year lifespan must be future-proofed, flexible and easily adapted to accommodate the 15future requirements of clinicians and surgeons.

By embracing change, harnessing technology and realising the potential of MMC, those of us within construction can play a vital role in supporting the healthcare system’s modern transition.

As demand for first-class healthcare services rises, at GRAHAM we’re confident that our industry is ready for the challenge.

Chris MacLeod is GRAHAM Framework Director. GRAHAM is a privately-owned company that specialises in the delivery of award-winning building, civil engineering, interior fit-out and facilities management. A truly national business, with an annual turnover of £767.6m (2018), it operates from 23 regional offices throughout the UK and Ireland and employs over 2200 colleagues.

Proudly ‘delivering lasting impact’ since 1798, it is currently completing over 100 live projects across a range of key sectors including education, healthcare, commercial, retail, highways and rail.
For more information, please see www.graham.co.uk