How offsite construction is revolutionising the healthcare estate
Modular and mobile construction methods are expected to outstrip traditional building solutions in popularity within the healthcare sector over the next few years.
This growing acceptance of offsite methods is helping to dispel the myth that the build quality is inferior to traditional onsite construction techniques.
Offsite construction has come of age and it is now accepted that it can deliver higher standards in every dimension: quality control, environmental performance, certification and insurance recognition
Matthew Goff, Actavo | Building Solutions’ operations director, said: “As a relatively-new way of working, offsite construction has come of age and it is now accepted that it can deliver higher standards in every dimension: quality control, environmental performance, certification and insurance recognition.
“A key advantage it has over bricks and mortar is the degree of control afforded by the manufacturing process.
“Compare this to the situation on a traditionally-built development, where consistent levels of control over every element of the build programme are difficult to achieve.”
He added: “When talking about production-line techniques, it is all too easy to conjure up a picture of uniform buildings lacking visual appeal. The opposite is, in fact, true.
“Bespoke modular buildings can be as individual as their bricks-and-mortar ‘cousins’ and complement their surroundings just as elegantly.”
Modular techniques also lend themselves to high levels of environmental and sustainability performance, another key priority for public-sector organisations like the NHS, which have been charged with reducing their carbon footprint in line with tough government targets.
From initial works to completion, it takes up to 67% less energy to produce a modular building compared to a traditionally-built project.
Pre-fitted with electrics, plumbing, heating, doors, windows and internal finishes before they are taken to site; modular buildings are now also installed with energy-efficient systems such as PIR sensors, enhanced ‘U’ values and solar panels.
Bespoke modular buildings can be as individual as their bricks-and-mortar ‘cousins’ and complement their surroundings just as elegantly
Not only is the offsite manufacture greener, but the buildings are designed to be energy efficient for their entire lifecycle and can be recycled when they are no longer needed.
Offsite construction also allows for a 90% reduction of the total number of deliveries to site as well as reducing up to 90% of waste generated.
Goff said: “Although changing views of offsite construction methods are continuing to increase its popularity; traditional methods still account for the largest market share in the building industry.
“As the construction sector develops and adapts to meet changing Government strategies, modular will be increasingly employed across the industry.”
Offsite construction projects can compare favourably to new-build facilities, particularly where energy efficiency and fit-out are concerned
The Government’s decision to make the use of Building Information Modelling (BIM) mandatory on centrally-procured construction projects is further fuelling the use of offsite methods.
“Offsite construction works towards a ‘zero defects’ conclusion and enables defined stages of inspection,” said Goff.
“Supply chain partners and sub-contractors are enveloped in the quality management system and so are subject to thorough checks to ensure the finished product surpasses the drawing board vision.”
While modular buildings are emerging as one of the more-popular offsite approaches, Vanguard Healthcare is at the forefront of a second wave of developments – short-term mobile facilities.
As the construction sector develops and adapts to meet changing Government strategies, modular will be increasingly employed across the industry
These enable healthcare organisations to respond to specific challenges, such as lack of capacity for specialist services or seasonal pressures.
A Vanguard spokesman said: “Even at traditionally-quieter times of year, hospitals across the country are now at full capacity.
“When demand naturally peaks during the winter months, or when facilities close for maintenance or refurbishment, trusts can face a bottleneck in patient flow and mounting waiting lists force many to outsource to private providers. As a result, NHS hospitals lose both funding and control of the patient pathway.
“As the demand for services continues to escalate, it is evident an alternative and innovative approach is required to tackle the increasing challenges of capacity and financial pressures.”
The use of mobile facilities is already helping several forward-thinking trusts including Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which commissioned Vanguard to install a mobile laminar flow theatre and a mobile ward on site, enabling it to manage a rise in demand for orthopaedic procedures.
“Initially, some staff members were concerned about the size of the units as mobile facilities are necessarily compact,” said the spokesman.
“However, they are also extremely high-tech, functioning no differently from permanent facilities from the perspective of patients and clinical staff.
“Clinical staff quickly came to love working in the unit, realising that it provided a professional, high-tech environment in which they could carry out procedures without the normal distractions of a hospital environment. Patients have also felt the benefit and feedback has been 100% positive.”
Vanguard is also working with a growing number of NHS organisations to deliver additional capacity
He added: “If the trust involved had not embraced mobile facilities, they may have instead been forced to outsource or delay procedures, incurring significant costs and, possibly, fines.
“Early adopters have shown that flexible infrastructure is a simple-but-effective way of keeping up with demand even when a hospital’s physical capacity is at its limit, keeping care firmly within the NHS even at peak times.
With the latest technical advancements in offsite construction, there need be no compromise on architectural design, performance, or appearance for healthcare projects
“If trusts continue to embrace a flexible and focused solution, they will be able to manage fluctuations in demand without compromise.
“In short, the approach can deliver a significant saving to the NHS when compared with alternative options.”
Nathalie Meunier, healthcare specialist at The McAvoy Group, concludes: “The healthcare sector has not embraced offsite as much as other sectors to date.
“However, with the latest technical advancements in offsite construction, there need be no compromise on architectural design, performance, or appearance for healthcare projects.
“Modular buildings can be used for wards, theatres, diagnostics and support facilities such as offices – and from extensions to complete hospitals. They can be used to create award-winning architecture and prominent, landmark schemes – or buildings that complement existing facilities and with greater efficiency.
“Offsite solutions allow highly-constrained hospital sites, where space for expansion is severely restricted, to be reconfigured to optimise operational efficiency.”