Construction and healthcare are in a period of rapid change and transformation. Embracing digitisation and modern methods of construction is key to delivering healthcare infrastructure that meets the needs of today and the future, writes Andy Macfarlane of Curtins.
For more than a decade, both the healthcare and construction sectors have been on parallel tracks of embracing rapid transformational change, driven by the digitisation of the processes for how we design, construct and engage with our healthcare environments.
The global pandemic has accelerated these changes, resetting public awareness of how we value our individual and collective physical and mental health.
Increasingly, healthcare environments are moving away from being institutional facilities to integral parts of our communities, with the focus shifting from transactional, treatment-based models to more service-based models of prevention and wellbeing.
The scale and ambition of the government’s new Health Infrastructure Plan provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity for a significant reappraisal of how we interact with our healthcare facilities and how they integrate with our communities.
This period of transformation creates both challenges and opportunities. The health facilities we design over the next five-to-10 years will form part of our communities for the next 100 years. When we consider the impact that digitisation has had on our day-to-day lives over the past 20 years, it is reasonable to assume that the changes over the coming decades and beyond will be equally transformational. This poses the key question of how we design and construct our healthcare infrastructure to meet the needs of the future as well as today.
As engineering designers, the key is designing for flexibility and adaptability in both buildings and external spaces, taking learning and best practice from other sectors. Hospital estates large and small have a common challenge: complexity. Therefore, our engineering solutions need to respond by mitigating impacts on live estates through design and construction and affording maximum flexibility for change across the project lifecycle.
A crucial part of this approach is the use of Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) to displace construction activity from the live hospital environment to the controlled factory manufacturing environment. This has the dual impact of reducing interaction between construction and operational activities, hence reducing risk while enabling greater control on construction quality and programme.
There is often the misconception that MMC means construction using volumetric modules with fully integrated services, finishes and equipment which are manufactured in factories and assembled onsite. While volumetric solutions are a key part of the MMC spectrum we need to be careful that solutions are not driven exclusively by the product.
The MMC approach positions engineers at the forefront of the design process. We have learnt through decades of successfully delivering MMC projects across many sectors that the best value lies in the integration of high-performance, pre-manufactured systems with the bespoke site constraints and project-specific design drivers.
Through our current work on North Manchester General Hospital, we are working collaboratively with the project team and stakeholders to develop MMC solutions from concept stage. This maximises pre-manufactured value through standardisation and the use of the latest digital processes to generate design data to support decision-making, particularly around areas such as sustainability and embodied carbon.
The early phases of a construction project are often where the most risk lies. Designs are being finalised against a background of change while the early construction activities such as enabling works and sub-structures are progressing at pace, often in highly constrained environments.
An approach using MMC mitigates the risk in this critical period by reducing:
- Onsite labour
- Construction traffic
- Noise, vibration and dust
These benefits can be achieved while shortening the build programme through minimising temporary works and moving the installation of complex design interfaces, such as fire, acoustic and services, from the site to the factory. This will enable higher quality buildings at a lower cost.
Continued alignment of the construction industry with a manufacturing and digital methodology provides a holistic solution to delivering high-quality healthcare facilities that respond to the needs of today while future proofing for tomorrow.
- Andy Macfarlane is director of Curtins’ Liverpool office, and civil and structural lead on North Manchester General Hospital