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Health sector turns to modular construction for cheaper, safer expansion

2nd May 2017

Croydon University Hospital

Hospitals and medical centres across the country are in desperate need of additional space and upgrades to improve clinical environments for staff and patients. But with so many medical buildings dating back to a time when adaptability was not a consideration, expansion projects represent a major challenge for the healthcare sector.

Part of the problem is a lack of space, and architects are increasingly asked to squeeze new hospital buildings into awkward locations, build upwards on top of existing buildings, or compromise access by adding new structures in car parks or near roads.

Other issues that plague the healthcare sector when it comes to construction projects include compliance with regulatory standards, accessibility for all members of the public, and the linking of new, state-of-the-art facilities to structures that were built many decades ago. Healthcare institutions also face stringent budget constraints and extensive planning procedures that must be addressed before any new building work can take place.

Rushing through red tape

The net result of increasing demands for new buildings and hospital extensions is construction firms being asked to complete works in ever-shortening project timescales.

“Everyone wants something they needed three months ago to be built overnight,” explains Mike Twizell, sales director at modular building specialists, Elite Systems.

“Hospital sites aren’t always particularly accessible. The buildings are often decades old and when they were built they weren’t designed to be added to or extended. Most hospitals are built with a courtyard in the middle, accessible via fire doors. We are frequently asked: ‘Can you put it there?'”

Fortunately, the NHS is embracing the benefits of modular construction in order to remove – or at least widen – some of the many hoops that contractors have to jump through and to make the creation of new clinical facilities more viable.

Croydon University Hospital

The mutual benefits of modular

Elite Systems is one of a number of firms to be placed on the NHS modular building framework, which allows organisations to go directly to modular suppliers.

By going direct, hospitals, surgeries and NHS departments can access all-inclusive packages that cover the planning applications and building controls, as well as the off-site construction and on-site installation of any new building.

Mike Twizell said: “Working direct with the NHS is a huge bonus to both parties. It cuts out waste and expense, and ensures the healthcare sector gets value for money.

“One of the big bonuses of working with us is that we have used the same subcontractors for many years. They know what is expected of them in terms of performance and workmanship. We have formed a strong bond of trust.

“The NHS also benefits from having one point of contact for the project and a cost that is highly unlikely to change. If problems arise then we discuss them with the client, the cost of the project doesn’t alter unless the specification changes due to unforeseen circumstances.”

A swift, safe solution

The NHS modular building framework started in January 2017, following research that showed off-site construction could bring 50 per cent faster delivery times and 30 per cent cheaper overall costs, while also reducing disruption. 

Keeping turnaround times to a minimum has been key to modular’s continued success in the sector, according to Mike Twizell.

“The process of manufacture and installation only takes a matter of weeks, subject to the size of the building,” he explained. “The groundworks and the manufacture are done simultaneously, and once the building is in place there is a ‘finishing off’ process that takes about two weeks.

“Modular construction is generally much quicker than traditional build. Off-site manufacture allows the standard of product to be monitored and carefully controlled.

“Each building arrives on site 90 per cent complete; the major works are all done in the factory. This minimises the chances of delays and site issues. The building itself is lightweight, so the ground preparation doesn’t have to be that extensive.”

With the framework due to continue for another four years, specialists like Elite Systems will have an important role to play as the challenges of hospital expansion continue to be met.

To speak to one of our team about how modular construction could benefit your project please call 01274 873 232