Tony Baldwinson asks “Are we building new hospitals for the 2020s or the 1920s?
“As many mental health activists and campaigners have pointed out, building a new centralised mental health hospital flies in the face of all modern best practice in dispersed, community-based mental health services. “
Park House will be a new-build mental health hospital in north Manchester, opening in 2024 for 150 people. Every person will have a single room en-suite with a locking door, and there will be treatment areas for therapies such as ECT – high voltage electric shocks to the brain – which is outlawed in some countries such as Slovenia. As many mental health activists and campaigners have pointed out, building a new centralised mental health hospital flies in the face of all modern best practice in dispersed, community-based mental health services. The only aspect of this hospital design that is missing from the 1920s is a library room for books on eugenics. To be replaced with daytime TV screens dressed up as therapy.
New Park House (M25 3BL) gained planning permission in January 2021 and with £72m of government money from the national programme for election-promised new hospitals towards its £105m total cost, it is politically very likely to be built despite its antiquated nature in terms of international modern mental health practices.
So what happens next?
There are already talks of the new building being better suited for use as general medical wards, or maybe as routine surgical wards for elective items like hip replacements. More of these wards are desperately needed after the austerity reductions in the NHS in the 2010s.
But maybe the single room design could also be used to flex its future use into a regional biosafety hospital. Covid-19 has taught the UK what other countries with experience of SARS-1 already knew, that epidemics and pandemics are increasingly likely and need to be robustly prepared for.
Biosafety levels internationally, known as the Containment Level in the UK, have the following examples:
CL-2 – campylobacter, Dengue
CL-3 – rabies, bird flu
CL-4 – Ebola, Lassa.
So a regional hospital with biosafety or containment level 4 facilities would be a great regional asset in the early-days management of an outbreak of any novel unknown pathogen.
It would be perfectly possible today to “future proof” the construction design of New Park House, for example with including a ventilation system that is cellular and not mixed, with ducting for oxygen to each room, and with safe waste water treatment before its discharge into public sewers and waterways.
But, sadly, the silo thinking of being a Mental Health Trust Board will not allow even the thought of “future proofing” for a wider benefit – one NHS, one public health.
So we will probably have to pay another construction company more millions of pounds in a few years time to rip out much of the pipework that is only suited to a 1920s design to make the hospital fit for purpose for the world we live in today.
Tony Baldwinson, 4th April 2020. See Tony Baldwinson’s website here
About Tony: Tony is a CHARM supporter, he believes in a good future based on sustainable cities, urban regeneration and building inclusive communities. His work has varied across the voluntary, public and private sectors and universities, always with a partnership approach to solving big problems.