'Hospital of the future' finalists

The final of the Wolfson Prize looms and we hear what the hospital of tomorrow could resemble
07 September 2021

Interview with 

Simon Wolfson, Wolfson Economic Prize, Sue Robinson, University of Cambridge


A team of doctors walking through a hospital corridor


Over the last year, the NHS has faced probably the biggest challenge in its 70 year history due to the Covid crisis. This has served to highlight strengths, but also deficiencies and weaknesses that should be addressed to improve the quality of healthcare and build a better service. This is precisely the goal of this year's Wolfson Prize, which has invited professionals to submit proposals for blueprints for the "hospital of the future". Earlier in the year we heard from Lord Simon Wolfson, when he announced that call, on what the prize is seeking to achieve... 

Simon - 3.7 billion pounds is about to be invested in UK hospitals. A lot of our hospitals are hugely outdated. The thing that concerns me is that we don't just build more of the same or slightly improved versions of the past. But if it is what we're looking for is ideas as to how to build a hospital of the future. And we're looking to improve absolutely every aspect of the hospital experience, whether that be the patient experience, the clinical outcomes, staff wellbeing and the way that the hospital integrates with the healthcare system in its community.

Chris - The process has now reached the stage where five finalists remain Cambridge university's teaching hospital Addenbrookes is where accident and emergency consultant Sue Robinson works. She's one of them, we'll hear about her proposal shortly, but first Simon is back with us. Crucially he is not part of the judging process, so he can speak freely and impartially about the entries. What sort of a response did the prize call get Simon?

Simon - It's been a remarkable response, actually. I can't remember a prize having a greater response. We've had over 98 entries from 15 different countries, over 250 separate organisations involved in those entries. I'm including 11 NHS trusts. There really has been an overwhelming response and enthusiasm to this task.

Chris - What sorts of things did people highlight? Were they all centering on the same themes or did you get quite a range of ideas being presented?

Simon - We've got a huge range of ideas actually, and that's what's exciting. In fact, if you look at the five finalists, very different entries from each of them. Broadly speaking, what we've got across all of the entries is improvements to the operations in hospitals, the look and feel of them, a lot of thought has gone into where we should be locating hospitals and the services that should be included in them. Such as for example, GP services or laboratories and research, and those that perhaps shouldn't be included such as convalescence. A huge amount of ideas.

Chris - I suppose part of the value of this is that those ideas have come from people who are boots on the ground. Sue Robinson is one of them. Sue you run a very busy, I know I've seen the queue outside of it, A & E department. What was the thrust of your bid for the Wolfson prize?

Sue - My team focused on an adult emergency department, which we thought was at the heart of a hospital specialising in urgent and emergency care. We tried to design out waits for both patients and staff so that we could deliver improvements in many of the elements of quality that Lord Wolfson refers to.

Chris - One of the things that Simon highlighted to us when he was on the program previously was things like infection control in hospitals, and that has really come to the fore during the coronavirus pandemic. I know it's been a perennial headache for accident and emergency departments in many parts of this country, as well as many countries. So, what's part of your solution to that? Have you have come up with a way of also addressing that issue?

Sue - You're quite right, it was incredibly difficult maintaining the highest standards of infection control during the pandemic in our ed, which was designed in 1961. Yes, we did focus a lot in terms of infection control not only in terms of our layout, which meant that we could close off parts of the ed very easily, but we also enhanced our single patient rooms and we also used technology that is out there, that's just not used in the NHS to reduce the contamination, but also to reduce the waits that occur when you're trying to clean a room

Chris - Simon, have we got some way of translating these fantastic proposals, which have come from boots on the ground, they are very insightful, and making sure that actually they do get realised? These are all brilliant proposals, presumably, that's why they're finalists. Have we got a way of making sure that these ideas are actually acted on?

Simon - That's not something that is within my gift, but it is something that I know that government are very enthusiastic about, right from the secretary of state down. Of course, one of the critical things will be cost. I'm hoping that some of the entrants talk a little bit about the cost of their ideas when they come back with their final entries. But I think there is one other thing that will make an enormous difference, and that is the amount of freedom that hospital trusts are given. My view is that it's important for central government to adopt some of these ideas, but it's also important for them to give hospital trusts that are building these hospitals the freedom to experiment, to try new things, new locations, new ideas, so that some of these ideas are implemented. As with all these things, when you get great ideas that are seen to work, others adopt them very quickly.


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