Public Health Articles

The modernisation of the NHS ready for a post-COVID future

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Although Maggie and Horatio’s ideas have so far been largely associated with hospitals, many lessons are there for primary care places for people

For 25 years I’ve been at the helm of Maggie’s as we’ve designed, built and run world class cancer centres. We have worked with some of the world’s best architects to design our buildings because we know that light, colour and a connection to nature really matter in how people deal with a cancer diagnosis. Each Maggie’s is architecturally unique, yet they are all built around the same founding principle; that architecture and design have a positive effect on health and mind. Our centres are built right alongside the hospital and are staffed by professionals with a healthcare background, but every centre is thoughtfully designed to be calming and welcoming; a place apart from the clinical environment of the hospital.

At Maggie’s I have been experienced first hand, countless times the positive effect our spaces have on people with cancer. As Bami one of our centre visitors to Swansea puts it:

“It makes me feel special, I feel privileged to be in a place like this. There is so much attention to detail and beauty that is dedicated to making me feel better.”

We know how a beautiful, considered and well-designed space can make the people in them feel valued and safe – and that includes our staff. How great architecture, landscaping and considered artwork allows people to express how they’re feeling in a way a hospital space isn’t designed to do.

This was bought home to me when our first centre opened in Edinburgh and I moved from the NHS to run it. I’d been looking after a patient in the hospital as her cancer nurse, but when she first came through the doors at Maggie’s she was completely different, so much more at ease, comfortable and able to express her true concerns and anxieties. All because she was in a space that felt like a home, not a hospital. It was incredibly powerful and it’s this effect that we’ve carried through all of our centres today. Buildings which create a sense of place, encourage human support but also offer privacy and comfort when it’s most needed.

In our centres there are no reception desks and no clocks; instead, we have comfy sofas and plenty of time. We don’t have signs up on our walls, our staff don’t wear uniforms and we pay attention to the important little details that make people feel at home and valued. Plants, plumped cushions, fresh fruit, furniture you can move around because you are in control, you are not being done to. A kitchen at the heart of the centre, just like a home, where you’re encouraged to make your own cup of tea, a small but important gesture. You are going through the worst time of your life and you deserve the very best.

When we started Maggie’s, the environment was thought to be a far secondary concern after medical care. But that attitude has slowly changed as the importance of psychological support has been recognised and how building design enables that to happen. After a year where the strain and importance placed on hospitals have never been so high, it’s of huge significance that the government has announced it will be investing into new acute hospital infrastructure. The Wolfson Economics Prize, of which I sit on the judging panel, has announced this year’s focus will be on radically improving the planning and design of hospitals in the future.

If we’re going to be investing in our hospitals in a post-COVID world, we need to make sure the investment has a wider health and societal outcome. We have a remarkable opportunity now to rethink what a hospital’s primary purpose is, to think about the role hospitals can play in supporting its community. A chance to build upon what we’ve learnt at Maggie’s and to further explore what a hospital building can offer above and beyond its physical form.

I’d like to use this opportunity to reshape a hospital’s role, not just as a place to come to when you’re ill but as a positive space where people can turn to and come together. A chance to create buildings, not from a purely practical standpoint, but to take a human and design-led approach, with the intangibles built in from the very start. A chance to create a space that inspires and lifts a community by being architecturally special as a reflection of how a hospital values its community and a community values its hospital.
Let’s use this post-COVID period as a chance for investment and change. A chance to really think about how we want to help people navigate through the healthcare system and come out all the better for it. An opportunity to get creative, innovative and make a real change in how hospitals are designed, built and used for generations to come.

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