Dec 18, 2018 Last Updated 11:34 AM, Dec 18, 2018

BakerHicks has completed its part in the latest phase of Ulster Hospital

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BakerHicks, the multi-disciplinary design and engineering business, has completed its part in the latest phase of the redevelopment of Ulster Hospital, taking one of the largest hospital redevelopment projects in Europe one step closer to completion.


The Inpatient Ward Block (IWB) saw the first patients move into wards at the start of April. The seven-storey, 288 single-bedroom facility is part of the Phase B Redevelopment programme, which will provide the Ulster Hospital with two new ward blocks. BakerHicks is providing the civil and structural design for Phase B, which began in 2013 and has attracted £232m of investment.

The history of the project dates back to 2005, when building work commenced on site for the Phase A redevelopment. The hospital environment provided a number of unique challenges that BakerHicks’ structural engineers had to take into account. Work had to be carefully coordinated and conducted without impacting ongoing acute services and access for the public and blue light routes.

There was a particular focus on vibration analysis, with strict criteria that hospital buildings have to meet for patient comfort, operating theatre environments, and for sensitive imaging equipment such as the cardiac cath lab image intensifier. BakerHicks used Finite Elements software to determine the critical vibration modes, their vibration frequency and modal mass. From this it was able to calculate the response factor of the floor slab and then compare its findings against the response factor required, which in the case of operating theatres is particularly strict.

To achieve the required response factors, BakerHicks designed the structural frame as a 400mm-thick reinforced concrete flat slab, liaising closely with the project architect to develop an efficient structural arrangement in particularly sensitive areas. Unlike a steel frame, which would have been too lively for the sensitive environments in the ward block, concrete’s inherent mass allowed BakerHicks to reduce the vibration levels within the building. A concrete flat slab also had other benefits including its inherent fire resistance, high thermal mass and ease of service distribution.

Meticulous, detailed planning and sequential implementation was critical throughout. Workshops were held with the design team and a construction design and management (CDM) coordinator to help identify potential challenges that might not have surfaced until much later in the process.

Also vital was a close working relationship with the client and associated construction partners. Information sharing was key, supported by the use of 3D modelling. BakerHicks also provided an on site engineer as a dedicated point of contact. This meant that any problems that did arise could be dealt with swiftly.

The design of the 30,000m2 IWB focuses on patient comfort, with 12 wards across four levels comprising 100% single, en-suite bedrooms, which provides patients with maximum privacy levels. The IWB also features four operating theatres, an endoscopy suite, cardiac cath lab, aseptic suite, a pharmacy department and a cafe.

Robbie McKillop, Director for the Public Sector at BakerHicks, said: “Hospitals are very design-intensive projects, with very specific requirements that need close collaboration and coordination with regards to planning and delivery. They also tend to be heavily serviced buildings in terms of M&E provision, which demands the highest levels of skill, expertise and experience in terms of design.

“This complex and large-scale project was particularly challenging as it had to be completed in a live acute hospital environment, whilst maintaining access to essential clinical services.”

Speaking at the opening of the new Inpatient Ward Block at the beginning of April 2017, Naomi Dunbar, Assistant Director, Strategic and Capital Development at South Eastern Health & Social Care Trust, praised the work of the teams involved: “What has been absolutely critical has been the planning. We’ve had a masterplan for this site since 2002, which has been essential for the success of the project. We have a very good relationship with the design team, the contractor and the 200 service users – all of which has been critical in getting us to the point of opening to our patients”

Work on the next element of the capital redevelopment programme, Phase B3, commenced in April 2016. This will see the design, construction and completion of the new Acute Services Block (ASB) which will house a new emergency department, inpatient imaging and specialist wards. A temporary link bridge connecting the IWB to the Critical Care Complex has also been erected, allowing patients and staff continued ease of access between the two buildings while the ASB is being constructed. BakerHicks is also helping to support the delivery of a relocated laundry building under a separate contract.

BakerHicks, formerly Morgan Sindall Professional Services, was awarded the civil and structural design contract by the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust (SEHSCT).

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