What Does the Future of Urban Healthcare Look Like?
In this post, which derives from an NBBJ-hosted talk at the British Library in London focused on the future of the NHS, we explore the future of healthcare in the UK--specifically, how the public healthcare estate is adapting to the demands of an ageing population, new technologies and severe financial pressures, and how it will look in 10, 20 and 30 years’ time. NBBJ Partner David Lewis was joined by speakers Jodie Eastwood, Chief Executive of the Knowledge Quarter; Peter Ward, Director of Real Estate Development at King’s College London: Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation; and Richard Darch, Chief Executive of the healthcare consultancy Archus, to discuss these important issues.
As we celebrate the 70th year of the NHS, the future of healthcare in the UK has arguably never been a hotter topic with no shortage of debate on how the world’s largest publicly funded health service will survive.
The people who work and care within the NHS remain its most valuable asset and they will continue to shape national pride in what polls have shown symbolises ‘what is great about Britain’.
But what about its places? How is the public healthcare estate adapting to the demands of an ageing population, new technologies and severe financial pressures? And how will it look in 10, 20 and 30 years’ time?
Creating ‘health engines’
Healthcare estates should be spaces where everyone comes together for the benefit of healthcare. Not in some utopian dream but in the form of ‘health engines’ that combine and convert the power of healthcare, research and development and industry to deliver positive progress. Instead of selling off surplus land for residential use and reducing the NHS estate, there is potential to create health ‘eco-systems’ in our cities—healthcare quarters with hospitals acting as anchor tenants surrounded by layers of research and wellness services, step-down care, commercial tenants and public social spaces.
These aspirations chime with the concept for a ‘health return’ from public assets, land and buildings to promote healthy lifestyle and wellbeing.
Everyone needs good neighbours
The Cambridge Biomedical Campus and Royal Liverpool University Hospital demonstrate how healthcare, research and commercial developments can benefit from being co-located. It’s important that spaces knit healthcare sites back into cities and their urban context, promote synergies between healthcare and education and create societal hubs that encourage public access and community use.
This is the point of view championed by Jodie Eastwood of the Knowledge Quarter, a partnership of more than 90 knowledge-rich organisations based around King’s Cross, St Pancras, Bloomsbury and Euston. Jodie espouses the power of cross-disciplinary partnerships saying “the real value of collaboration comes when you cross sectors.”
Science on show
However, co-locating sectors alone is not enough. We must create buildings that actively promote formal and informal collaboration; spaces that showcase health and science in one place.
Blurring spatial boundaries can bridge the gap between fundamental research and application in practice, allowing those differing aspects of innovation to drive each other.
At the same time putting science on show, making it accessible to the public, helps to demystify scientific endeavour, while sowing seeds for education and future talent.
The Quadram Institute in Norwich is a case in point, incorporating an environment in which clinicians work alongside scientists at the forefront of food science, gut biology and healthcare research under one roof with one shared identity and entrance.
Bringing together the Institute of Food Research, the University of East Anglia and the gastrointestinal endoscopy facility of Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, the Quadram Institute conducts bench-to-bedside research and clinical care related to health and diet.
Within a hierarchy of spaces, the clinical research facility and patient treatment areas are more private to protect patients’ and participants’ confidentiality, whilst the research space is open to showcase the science within.
Future-proofing and flexible facilities
There are also many lessons the NHS needs to learn from when designing the next generation of healthcare facilities and buildings.
Purely clinically-led design isn’t working and must be supplemented by research-led thinking that inspires sustainable, adaptable buildings offering operational flexibility.
We must also champion strong and proven healthcare, research and technology hubs, such as the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto and UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay, as the best breeding ground for future start-ups and world-leading innovation.
Yes, many garage start-ups have turned into multinational powerhouses but most new ventures will have a higher chance of success from being based in well-connected places that benefit from local cultural and heritage amenities.
Technology drives talent
Finally is the undeniable importance of digitalisation and AI to the future of healthcare and driving the talent that will drive healthcare forward. It will be fascinating to see how emerging technologies will advance the practice of medicine, improve health and empower patients to be active participants in their own care. Trends in digital diagnostics, robotics and data are allowing hospitals to put the human experience first.
For example, many hospitals in the United States are already being designed with extra-wide corridors, allowing robots to deliver medicine and other critical supplies directly to patient rooms. Meantime, IBM’s Watson is being utilized to diagnosis illnesses—especially those that are hard to detect—which then impacts the experience of patients and the quality of care they receive.
The NHS needs to sell a vision of the future now, instill public confidence and demonstrate it has a plan to create a future for itself. What’s needed is true collaboration, openness and innovation, inclusivity, community and a need to think flexibly. Don’t let’s design for just one need but let’s create a sustainable health and wellbeing community for the next 70 years.