Getting some therapy: building healthy hospitals
Richard Burton of ABK, the chairman of the Vision 2020 document on the future shape of the UK's hospitals, made a telling point at an AJ seminar held in London last week.
Hospitals, he said, must strive toward more 'humanised' environments, where, for instance, deep plan allows more natural light, so they become nicer places for staff and patients alike. You wouldn't allow the kinds of dispiriting environmental conditions hospitals very often exhibit in prisons, so why do so in places specifically designed for people to get (physically) better in?
Burton, like fellow speaker Rosemary Glanville of South Bank University's Medical Architecture Research Unit, is right. Health buildings must be fit for purpose, efficient and adaptable, but they must also offer up delight and make a contribution, physically, culturally, and socially - not least because people get better quicker in brighter, more 'humane'settings. But with a building boom in health, it is crucial that the commissioning bodies for these new breeds of hospitals, healthcare centres and onestop shops embrace this need quickly. And steer away from the belief that projects should be austere-looking to show they've been thrifty with public money.
However, with the onset of the Private Finance Initiative, a lack of commissioning skills has put health design on a scalpel-edge. Few architecture schools are equipped to deal with the issue, clients and the construction professionals with the task of building are 'disengaged'from each other, and yet the NHS is currently procuring more than 70 new conventional PFI hospitals.
So it is a relief this week to see a new document aimed directly at the NHS Estates, again from chairman Richard Burton, with recommendations gleaned from architects, medics and consultants. Called simply 'Advice', it is just that, on how to expertly commission as a client and transform a situation where briefing well is only 'sporadic'and lacks 'rigour', to one where skills lost to the medical profession can be resuscitated. And where common-sense needs like daylight, as well as nebulous ones like delight, are in the brief, lest they be forgotten among bed counts and commercial spin-offs for PFI private partners.The prognosis, already, looks better.