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Doing business in health: Willmott Dixon’s first foray into LIFT

The Heart of Hounslow Centre for Health was Willmott Dixon’s first large project procured using LIFT, (Local Improvement and Finance Trust), which the Department of Health started in 2001.

The centre was opened in 2007 and Mark Chamberlain, project director on the scheme, won a silver medal at the CIOB’s Construction Manager of the Year Awards in 2008.

“It was fairly critical to Willmott Dixon – it wasn’t just about delivery of the project, it was contributing to the future work load and contact between us and the private sector [via LIFT],” he says.

The project was under a Design and Build contract so the firm took the full risk. At the first stakeholder meeting, Mr Chamberlain was faced with 50 people, which he managed to reduce to a steering group of 10-15 who would meet fortnightly. These included end users who had the power to refuse to occupy the building if they were not satisfied. “There was a danger of a wish list being produced,” he says.

“They had to realise that there were financial, technical and other processes that took place over two to three years and it would be very difficult to achieve all those criteria for everybody. So it was a very sensitive approach that was needed,” he says.

Offsite construction

By Ron Morgan

The UK healthcare industry has had a reputation for being resolutely functional in its approach to design and construction. But new styles of construction are heralding a marked improvement in quality while also helping to speed up the construction process and improve design.  

Offsite construction has played a major part. The concept is simple – construct complex features such as bathrooms, plant rooms and service distribution systems in an offsite facility then simply slot them into the building. As a result of these methods, 90 per of high-level engineering services on a healthcare project can be prefabricated offsite, while a team of just six is now able to complete a staggering 200 m of fully-functioning service distribution corridor in less than a week.

The benefit of offsite construction to what may seem like a relatively straightforward part of a healthcare project – bathrooms – is also particularly significant. Recent research has shown that 90 per cent of hospital shower rooms fail within the first year and this poor water management is a curse on many hospitals. However, computer cutting and fitting of the precisely designed pods ensures that seals and materials can now remain in top shape for at least 60 years.

Perhaps the most important point about the new wave of healthcare design is its overwhelmingly positive effect on the end-user and, in particular, the most important end-user of them all – the patient.

Thanks to improved construction and design, new hospitals are now featuring over 50 per cent ensuite rooms. Not only does it help medically with issues such as infection control and patient safety, it can, most importantly, give the seriously ill an unprecedented level of privacy and dignity.

Ron Morgan is head of Healthcare at Capita Architecture

Concrete vs steel – which costs more?

Concrete is marginally cheaper than steel in terms of structure when it comes to building hospitals according to a recent study. Arup, Davis Langdon, Costain and architecture firm Nightingale Associates compared costs of building a 480-bed general hospital and a 96-bed local hospital.

For both types of building, post-tensioned flat concrete slab was found to be most cost effective, followed by reinforced flat slab, in-situ concrete and hollowcore, composite steel deck, steel and hollowcore, and Slimdek at 5.4 per cent more than the post-tensioned slab.

Post-tensioned slabs also produced the smallest floor to ceiling height for both hospitals which reduces the cladding area, internal partitions and finishes.


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