EDITORIAL: Good design critical for hospitals' health

Like all common sense ideas, the campaign for well-designed hospitals that was launched by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment and the Royal College of Nursing this week has little going against it.

Ironically, poorly designed hospitals offer their own version of sick building syndrome. They contribute to poor health while patients and staff suffer, sometimes needlessly.

The UK is witnessing the biggest clinical construction programme it has ever seen. But how often the issue of good design comes up among those responsible for commissioning this hospital building stampede is highly debatable. There are signs that it barely registers at all. Yet nine out of ten nurses agree that a well-designed environment helps patient recovery, with nearly as many believing that it would help them do their jobs better.

Most nurses are of the opinion that they should be consulted on design, but a majority have no say whatsoever on the issue.

The whole point behind planning, design and the built environment is that decisions that are taken today will affect the next 50, 75 or even 100 years. This is the argument against some of the ridiculous notions touted by big business and Sir John Egan that everything is down to process management. The flip side of such ignorance is displayed by many of the powers-that-be in the NHS.

Health trusts, politicians and the private finance initiative consortia involved in hospital building are throwing away the best opportunity that the UK has ever had to influence the nation's health and environment.

Second or third-rate design will prove costly - and not just on the balance sheets. If design is not even taking the UK's healthcare needs in 25 years' time into account, what kind of mess will we be in as the 21st century progresses - or should that be regresses?

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