How to Create Additional Ward Space on Hospital Sites During a Health Crisis

Do conference centres and warehouses make an ideal setting for emergency healthcare capacity? Despite the valuable role some Nightingale hospitals played during the peak of the Covid-19 crisis, there are lessons to be learned – particularly from the fact that most of the extra capacity was unused.

Large open spaces that are perfect for exhibitions do not easily lend themselves to containing highly infectious diseases. And although the hospitals were up and running quickly, this took a huge logistical effort involving the military to set up the services and oxygen lines needed to run ventilators and other medical equipment.

The biggest issue was the location, which meant that medical staff had to be transferred along with patients. In many cases these staff were highly trained critical care nurses who are in short supply nationally.

Clinical Risk Management

Additionally, Covid-19 can cause complex medical issues. Extremely affected patients experience multiple organ failures as well as respiratory problems, which meant that many patients couldn’t be transferred as facilities such as dialysis and cardiac support were not available away from the main hospital site.

Rather than transfer patients in large numbers, the NHS in England found ways to free 30,000 existing beds. This was largely driven by wanting to retain patients in the setting that was judged to carry the lowest clinical risk.

The likelihood of future spikes in the infection rate as we move into autumn is significant. And most experts agree that the emergence of other viruses capable of triggering a pandemic is inevitable. So NHS trusts need to plan for how extra capacity is best provided in an emergency.

Future Spikes and New Epidemics

The experience with Nightingale hospitals indicates that being able to bring additional capacity on stream on existing hospital sites is a more effective clinical option. The key challenges are where to locate the extra capacity and how to construct it quickly enough to be useful.

In many hospitals, the space issue can be addressed by making better use of land given over to parking. The modular car parking system developed by Osborne and Siderpark can be installed rapidly to add an additional parking deck and effectively halve the land area needed for car parking.

Modern construction methods also allow new hospital buildings to be erected rapidly on the land that is released. Osborne has a highly simplified product that is rapidly assembled to create 6-60 room overflow capacity based on six-room clusters. The structures are made from large panels – that are easy to transport to and around hospital sites – and pre-fitted bathroom pods.

The additional capacity could be used as isolation units to segregate highly infectious patients or as temporary housing for key staff who need to isolate. The product is robust enough for permanent use, while the modular construction allows it to be decommissioned and dismantled easily if it is no longer needed.

This combined modular car parking and hospital building solution offers a viable and easy option to locate additional emergency capacity in the locations that offer access to the widest possible range of specialist treatment and care.

Find out more about modular hospital buildings by watching this short video or by visiting our resource centre.