Phil Woodford discusses key challenges facing NHS hospitals

Date posted: 9th June 2021 Phil Woodford discusses key challenges facing NHS hospitals thumbnail image

My personal experience

Over the last decade, my family and I have needed to use many hospitals for many reasons, including a nine-hour spinal operation for our eldest daughter. At an appointment prior to surgery, the surgeon told my wife and I the date and time he expected our daughter to be discharged from her stay and he was spot on, to within an hour.

While I believe many talented people were the deciding factor in the efficiency of their prediction, the building – only six years old – and the up-to-date facilities and services housed within it, clearly played a key part.

When people think of change – of new technologies and services – of course the mind goes to the extreme. While non-surgical robotics has a part to play in the future of the NHS, we also need to retain what’s at the very heart of our service and that is our amazing people.

When I thought I was dying, being wheeled through endless hospital corridors, I was very glad to have the company of the compassionate porters to talk to and lighten the mood. On the same topic, I visited an acute ward a couple of years ago and spent the day with a cleaner. It was an insightful day and she left me in tears, speaking of the moments of reciprocal joy she shared with patients she interacted with.

We must not let go of the care and compassion within our hospitals. Some perceived ‘problems’ do not need solving.

From giving surgical teams the tools they need to run an efficient service, to when and how to introduce the most modern of technologies, it is these personal experiences that I draw upon in my current role, helping to share the future of hospital facilities for Lancashire and South Cumbria.

My professional judgement

In February 2020, the government debated the national New Hospital Programme in Parliament. The debate identified many challenges, including ensuring that the ambulance service was consulted and involved in determining the most effective location for any new sites:-

“Many of the crucial design factors identified through research by design experts are completely absent in many hospitals within the NHS estate. Many of our hospitals, including our hospital [said the MP from Basingstoke] in Basingstoke, were built for a different era of medicine. The buildings have been modified, added to, partially knocked down and rebuilt, and prefabricated units have been built in front of old units. Any sense of coherence in the design of our hospitals has long been lost.”

Mrs Maria Miller, MP for Basingstoke

My personal belief is there are four key challenges that hospital building programmes will face for the future:

  1. To be able to respond to the reality that coronavirus and other such viruses could appear again in the lifetime of these new hospitals; they must be able to react. Hospitals of the future might need to operate like an accordion, expanding as needed. For example, in Israel, the Rambam Health Care Campus (opens in new window) has converted its car park, so that in times of emergencies, such as warfare, it can turn its 1,400 car parking space facility into a 2,000 bed hospital
  2. To play a material role in not adversely impacting the environment. Installing a few electric vehicle (EV) charging points as ‘token’ evidence of a sustainable approach is a red herring and while important, is nowhere near enough (and that’s coming from an EV owner!).
  3. To consider the people. These are not just places for the sick and injured; hospitals are the workplaces of an army of dedicated professionals, both clinical and non-clinical. The public will also need to be fully involved in the planning, letting them get hands on. This is a once-in-a-generation chance to create hospital facilities that are anchors in our communities, supporting local people to live well, not just when they need emergency care.
  4. All that glitters is not gold: digital technology is wonderful when used correctly, but the challenge is not to be swayed by the ‘bells and whistles’. We need to concentrate on the benefits of such technology, not the features.

I look forward to playing my part in solving these challenges, shaping new services, and helping the people of Lancashire and South Cumbria to live longer, healthier lives.

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