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Pandemic highlights challenges for healthcare premises


More than a quarter (27%) of doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals say healthcare buildings where they have worked or visited haven’t worked sufficiently for the services provided during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reflecting on the last three months, professionals working in hospitals, health centres, GP surgeries and mental health sites, among other locations, gave feedback including: corridors were too narrow to allow social distancing when passing another person; rooms were too small for wheelchairs users; staff rooms were unsatisfactory; and some old buildings were not fit-for-purpose.

While just over half (55%) of professionals said that sites they’d used were fit-for-purpose during the past three months, others said healthcare premises had ‘not worked that well’ or ‘at all well’ for the services provided within, according to a national survey by YouGov.

Concerns were raised about lack of space to implement social distancing in both clinical and staff areas, infection risk in older buildings and inflexible layouts across organisations, in the research we commissioned.  Respondents were also asked about what they would want to see in community medical centre buildings of the future, based on their experiences of care during the pandemic so far. The most called-for features were:

  • More flexible space which can be adapted quickly when needed (70%)
  • The ability to divide the building or isolate specific areas (64%)
  • Both face-to-face consulting rooms and smaller remote consulting spaces (52%)
  • External spaces for both patients and staff (49%)
  • Intercom for communicating with patients outside the building or in different zones (42%)
  • Room for more on-site treatments away from hospital (41%)

We commissioned the survey to help inform our approach to future building design for the recovery from COVID-19 and beyond.

Our CEO Jonathan Murphy said: “For a number of years now, we’ve been working on what we see as the medical centre design of the future – exploring how the physical design and layout will work with primary care’s growing use of digital technology, remote consultation and diagnostics.

The last three months have showed us just how much more there is to do – shining a light like never before on the flexibility and innovation needed to create the right environments for the care we’ll need in our communities in future. This includes embedding greater use of digital technology in primary care and to give healthcare professionals the workplaces they want to see. Clearly, we all hope we’ll never experience a situation like this again – but there is so much we can learn from it to create the health spaces of the future.”  

Further findings:

Sample comments from respondents who said healthcare premises they have visited or worked in over the last few months have ‘not worked that well’ or ‘not worked at all well’:

  • Corridors too narrow to allow for social distancing when passing another person.
  • Bed spaces are not two metres apart and design of ward area prevents spacing to allow social distancing to happen.
  • Unable to social distance from colleagues. Not enough side rooms to isolate or negative pressure rooms.
  • Social distancing is impossible in some settings.
  • Rooms too small to work in
  • There is not enough space for staff to consistently maintain a two-metre distance (survey conducted before one-metre-plus rule was introduced). I’ve worked in several different clinical areas over the past few months and it’s been the same in every area.
  • Listed buildings provide insufficient mobility access
  • Too many patients in waiting room. Unable to social distance in most work environments of the hospital especially in offices, clinical rooms etc.
  • Poor staff rooms, they are too small so staff are forced to sit outside for their breaks
  • Not able to social distance, not enough side rooms for patients who are suspected with COVID-19 being apart from one another (i.e. people coughing next to people who are not)
  • Rooms small to allow good distancing. GPs have stopped offering face to face services to patients who need it, putting more pressure on nurses who still see patients face to face.
  • There has not been enough space to keep up with the work safely so had to reduce clinical input to remain safe.
  • I am a wheelchair user and most of the rooms are too small
  • Hospitals were built when populations were smaller and the number of services and disciplines within the hospital were much smaller. They are now all woefully lacking in space for teams to operate efficiently, let alone with social distancing.
  • Old buildings not fit for current purpose
  • Victorian estate with narrow corridors and too many people in the buildings

*Data notes: All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,012 healthcare professionals in the UK. Fieldwork was undertaken between 19th – 23rd June 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of the NHS workforce by occupation group.

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