A group of postgraduate researchers is asking nurses to take part in a study looking at ways to ensure hospital wards are fit to meet the challenges of climate change.
The five-strong research group, who are all studying for a Masters degree in Interdisciplinary Design for the Built Environment at the University of Cambridge, hope their project will help inform practical measures to boost the safety and comfort of NHS staff and patients.
“Any new hospitals that are built must also be able to cope with any future climate changes”
Building surveyor Lloyd Bishop, one of the postgraduates involved in the project, explained that the ultimate aim was to find a “greener, more efficient way of designing new wards”.
In particular, the team is exploring whether “passive measures”, such as building thicker walls, may be a more efficient and cheaper way of protecting patients and staff from the more frequent extremes of temperature anticipated with climate change.
“Coping with future environmental change is going to be an increasingly important problem,” said Mr Bishop. “The NHS already has a huge investment in built infrastructure – we need to make what’s there more resilient.
“Meanwhile, any new hospitals that are built must also be able to cope with any future changes,” he said. “This is about helping to increase the safety and comfort of both patients and staff.”
Mr Bishop said the team was keen to explore the properties of different types of hospital buildings and wards, mainly focusing on “thermal comfort”.
“There are various different types of hospital ward, going back to the 19th century Nightingale wards, which are typically very long, narrow, with high ceilings and windows that open,” he said.
“It is about things such as whether the ward they are familiar with suffers from over-heating in the summertime”
He noted that other, sometimes smaller, ward types often featured in more modern hospital buildings like courtyard-style layouts and towers, such as at University College Hospital London.
“Modern designs, such as tower designs, typically have sealed facades with lots of mechanical ventilation and air conditioning,” he said. “All these different types of building and types of ward design perform differently under climatic influences.”
For example, he noted that heavy masonry walls like those found in Nightingale wards – or those constructed of thick concrete – may absorb heat during the day and release heat gradually during the night.
To find out more about the benefits of different designs, the team hope to gather the views of three different groups – facilities managers, hospital engineers and clinical staff.
Mr Bishop said the group were particularly keen to get feedback from nursing staff, as they were the group that spent most time on the wards.
“The people who spend the most amount of time in the same rooms as patients are the nursing staff and so we’d very much like to get them involved in our research,” he said.
“They are on the frontline, so know which types of building work very well in the summer and which building types work well in winter,” he said.
“The people who spend the most amount of time in the same rooms as patients are the nursing staff”
To that end, the team is asking readers of Nursing Times to complete a short survey about a ward they regularly work in and know well.
The researchers will also be conducting some more detailed interviews with nurses and others at their workplaces.
Mr Bishop said the survey was “non-technical” and hoped as many Nursing Times readers as possible would be able to find three minutes or so to complete it.
“It’s not technical so we’re not going to be asking people to take readings and suchlike,” he said. “It is about things such as whether the ward they are familiar with suffers from over-heating in the summertime, and also identifying the type of ward they work in – whether it a multi-bed open ward, divided into small bays or whether it is all single rooms.”
While the group is mainly looking at “thermal comfort”, Mr Bishop said ward design could also play a key role in infection control.
“A cellular type ward – where the ward is divided into various different little rooms – provides a physical barrier and a physical aid to remind people to use hand sanitiser,” he said. “Or it may assist with cleaning regimes. However, we are really open to all feedback.”
The other members of the group – who are all professionals working in building design and management – are Noxolo Mtembu, Ben Hickman, Andrew Livesey and David Carun.
They hope to finish the project by later summer and plan to publish their findings in the form of an open letter to parliament.
The researchers said the method of research would be a questionnaire issued hyperlink, which should take no longer than three minutes to complete.