Mark Bowden looks at the opportunities and challenges that lie in delivering projects for the healthcare sector

Although the challenges in the healthcare sector are vast, the requirements created by an ageing population pose a tremendous opportunity for future projects. It is reported that, between 2001 and 2031, the number of people over 64 will increase from 9.5 million to 15 million, and within that figure, the number who will be dependent on care will increase from 2.5 million to four million, so the provision of healthcare services has never been so vital.

NG Bailey has contributed to many successful UK healthcare construction projects in recent years in partnership with key healthcare construction contractors. For example, it has worked on projects that are part of the Procure 21 NHS framework, the Scottish Health Framework and large Private Finance Initiative (PFI) projects such as the St Helens and Knowsley Trust. It knows first hand the challenges and opportunities that projects in this sector can bring.

Unlike other buildings, the complexity of creating a new hospital, especially when considering the services and systems needed to operate such a building, is immense.

The mechanical and electrical systems are a foremost consideration and must be designed to suit the model of care provided by the facility. They must also have the ability to provide emergency back-up to best support the care required and the types of procedures performed, and where patient beds are present, the facility is often required to operate 24/7, so operational efficiency is also a consideration.

Design and layout of the rooms is a crucial element, as is the ability of the infrastructure to support the technology used. The comfort of the environment for staff, patients and their visitors is also important. It is with these drivers in mind that healthcare projects should be delivered.

So how can we ensure healthcare projects are delivered in such a way? First, it starts with the initial approach to the project made by the team. Demonstrable success can be achieved through partnering and strategic project engagement. Without teamwork, collaboration and everyone signing up at an early stage to the same goals and objectives, success in healthcare projects is very difficult to achieve.

The construction sector is changing, with pockets of best practice developing as clients put more pressure on project teams to deliver work on time and with reduced risk. A collaborative approach facilitates new ways of working. They might not be the easiest option, but they can bring significant rewards.

Second, we need to practise more effective ways of working. For example, off-site construction allows for complex areas of installation that can require several trades working on site to instead be produced in modular format in controlled factory conditions.

In turn, this approach delivers a host of attractive benefits. A greater level of quality and consistency can be achieved and therefore a reduction in defect levels. For example, take a typical UK construction site, exposed to the ravages of inclement weather. Freezing temperatures and lashing rain are not particularly good conditions for achieving high-quality workmanship.

Without teamwork, collaboration and everyone signing up at an early stage to the same goals and objectives, success in healthcare projects is very difficult to achieve

In the electronics and motor industries zero faults are expected, yet in construction, defects are common, and they are often costly to rectify. Off-site factory conditions allow for better quality control procedures and checking.

‘Green’ is the watchword of the day, and off-site construction is proven to lead to less waste. It is often the case that some materials delivered to a typical site are never used and go straight into the waste stream. In a factory environment, materials can be more accurately monitored and carefully stored.

In addition, off-site construction requires less delivery to site, allowing a well-managed project to lessen its impact on local transport networks and ultimately the environment. It also ensures that serious injuries or fatalities that can happen on site are kept to a minimum.

A further major impact on hospital projects is the reduction in site labour, with the consequential reduction in car-parking requirements. This is essential on sites that already have significant patient and visitor parking issues.

Finally, engaging with staff and patients helps NG Bailey to help them understand their new building. It works with an independent provider to create a set of resources aimed at doing exactly that. It has developed a choice of activities for patients with mental health problems, for young people and for children’s units.

The company also has a number of hands-on activities that provide opportunities to solve real problems in a secure environment such as a children’s ward. Activities include challenges that bring out teamworking as well as practical skills.

In order to deliver in the ever-evolving healthcare environment, it is essential that companies understand the changing landscape. This is why last year NG Bailey demonstrated its commitment to the sector by working with Willmott Dixon and other supply-chain partners to develop the community healthcare campus at the BRE Innovation Park, part of BRE’s headquarters in Watford, Hertfordshire.

This allowed the company to demonstrate in a controlled, laboratory-style environment what can be achieved when thinking outside the box. The campus gives a glimpse of what the patient experience of local healthcare could be, plus the opportunities available for primary care trusts in delivering this vision.

To illustrate ‘assisted living’, the BRE Innovation Park campus links to a house where patients are monitored remotely – something that will no doubt have to be used more widely in the future if we properly take the ageing population estimates into account.