Department Store Diagnostics

NHS waiting lists are at an all-time high. Architect, Ehren Trzebiatowski, explains how the imaginative adaptation of space and recycling of equipment can help solve the problem.

Over the last two years the waiting list for elective NHS services in the UK has increased significantly, with untreated cancer reaching record levels. In 2021, in partnership with the Department of Health we created an innovative, first of its kind healthcare centre – Dorset Health Village. The new service for University Hospitals Dorset NHS Foundation Trust was designed and built inside the fully operational Dolphin shopping centre in Poole using the identical methods and equipment used to construct the NHS Nightingale emergency hospitals in April 2020. This is the next chapter in a story about how fast-track construction methods and the reuse of equipment can reduce pressure on our health system and support the health of the country.

“It’s been a privilege to see first-hand the innovative new approaches and technological breakthroughs that will underpin our recovery from COVID-19 and help tackle the backlog currently facing our NHS and social care system.”

Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

It is a new model of care-seeking to improve and strengthen health system resilience and address the post-Covid backlog in elective care. It is diversifying the geography of NHS estates and healthcare investment, improving access by re-using retail facilities for health. Challenges within the retail sector are widely documented and as landlords struggle to protect their assets, these new models of medical centres can not only benefit the community but also drive footfall, stimulating the life of town centres.

Dorset Health Village, Diagnostic Design Instruction Manual

Change of use from retail to medical has never been more supported. Under the terms of the new Use Classes Order for England the provision of medical services falls within the same class as shops, offices and leisure, meaning that a formal planning application for change of use is no longer required. It is hoped that complementary users may let neighbouring vacant retail units; dentists, opticians, pharmacies and physios could offer a united wellbeing destination, consolidating journey times and, from the landlords’ perspective, giving the security of an anchor tenant with long term quasi-government backed income.

With the success of this pilot, additional funding means that 39 more diagnostic centres across England are now in planning. They will benefit millions of people through earlier diagnostics and more convenient and accessible treatment. This design model also contributes to the NHS’s net zero ambitions by providing multiple tests at one visit, reducing the number of patient journeys and helping to cut carbon emissions and air pollution.

We are very proud to be a part of such an impactful and important initiative, breaking down barriers to change and capitalising on the many opportunities for large scale sustainable repurposing projects. Healthcare is an obvious solution, not least because it spans the demographic divide.