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'Future proof' hospital design impossible, say consultants

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CONSULTANTS AND contractors this week slammed National Health Service (NHS) demands for hospital design to be 'future proofed' to accommodate new healthcare technology and practice.

They said that future trends were impossible to predict and too expensive to accommodate within current private finance initiative (PFI) deals.

The NHS is insisting on future proofing because healthcare is changing too fast to keep up with hospital procurement.

'We really don't know where we're going to be in five years time in terms of [hospital] design. We don't know if things will be robust or flexible enough in the future. But designs need to be 'future proof', ' said Sylvia Wyatt, project manager with NHS think-tank Future Healthcare Network.

Wyatt added that the next tranche of PFI hospital projects may be ditched if the Treasury decides that the healthcare environment is changing too fast for the construction industry to keep up.

The view echoes last week's comments by Imperial College's Innovation Centre co-director, Professor James Barlow, that advances in technology could make high bed capacity hospitals redundant in 20 years time (News last week).

But consultants insisted that attempts to future proof would prove futile.

'Trying to future proof facilities is almost impossible to design for in 10 years time, let alone 25 years - the period covered by most PFI hospital projects, ' said Atkins health director Ian Tempest.

'All we can do is make sure we avoid designing to the absolute minimum [NHS Estates health building notes] standards and build 'loose fit' designs, ' he added (see box).

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