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Construction National blog: 18/06/2012

Construction National Blog logoI have, over the years, spent rather more time in health service buildings than I would have liked. That has to be true of most of us, although sometimes my inside knowledge of hospital layouts and even procedures (the bureaucratic kind, not surgical) has struck even me as being sad. Most of the hospitals and health centres I have spent time in have been dilapidated and not fit for a modern service, usually in a run-down wing at the back of a largely-refurbished hospital, tucked away from public gaze.

We are, according to the NHS, embarked on the "biggest healthcare building programme ever seen in the UK", and largely most health centres and hospital premises are being gradually brought into the 21st century. Major campaigns were fought to retain local facilities at the expense of centralised specialist units, but on the whole the progress achieved has outweighed the loss of local amenity. There have been exceptions, of course: the closure of the A&E unit at my nearest hospital has meant extra work for a far older – and frankly uninspiring – unit at the hospital in the next town, which is itself Victorian in origin.

Our new health centre is built in a former cotton mill and designed by an award-winning specialist architects' practice. The facilities are excellent, except that nobody thought to provide a car park. And what should be a pelican crossing from the public car park across the main road is a zebra. Older, disabled and sick people take their lives in their hands trying to cross as nobody these days seems to know that they are obliged to stop.

One area where new facilities should score over older buildings is their low-carbon profile. I was astonished to read, in a report by a European Lead Market Initiative called LCB-Healthcare, or Low Carbon Buildings in the Healthcare Sector, that the carbon footprint of the European healthcare sector is at least 5% of total carbon emissions, or similar to the international and shipping activities. The report also carried the less-than-encouraging news that most projects fail to deliver the carbon savings they promise at the outset.

With the NHS producing 3.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually, there is certainly room for improvement.

Chris Stokes