The push to improve NHS design standards took another step forward as it emerged that a design centre is to be set up by NHS Estates, the health service's property arm.
The news comes as it was confirmed that the Prince of Wales is to become an NHS design champion, as predicted in Building (17 August, page 11). The Prince will begin his work at a conference next month, where he is expected to tell NHS chief executives and chairmen in charge of PFI programmes that a balance between form and function must be struck.

The design centre will add momentum to the Prince's campaign. NHS Estates will appoint an architect to head the unit, which will offer policy advice to the department. Advertisements for a designer, with a £50,000 salary, have been published.

The remit of the centre will cover four areas:

  • Architecture and the urban environment
  • Engineering and technology
  • Costing and benchmarking
  • Planning.

Peter Wearmouth, the acting chief executive of NHS Estates, said there was no front-runner for the job. He noted that the advertisement had attracted interest from some significant architects.

NHS Estates is also to liaise with the Major Contractors Group to improve design briefs and make the PFI process more efficient. The MCG has been critical in the past of the way hospitals are procured.

Wearmouth said: "We are looking to do pieces of work with the MCG. This is our biggest challenge – we've got to refurbish our guidance."

Wearmouth added that the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment would probably be invited to the discussions.

The decision to create a design centre is part of the transformation of NHS Estates from a government agency charged with handling a £650m property portfolio to an advisory body whose trading activities are contracted out.

It will become a division of the Department of Health next summer.

Wearmouth said: "NHS Estates was set up as an agency because it had trading activities; without these activities, it no longer needs to be an agency."