Oct 17, 2019 Last Updated 10:52 AM, Aug 14, 2019

Priorities in healthcare construction

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Now is a time of pressure for the UK's health service. Building high-quality, sustainable health facilities within timescales and budgets is key. Offsite timber frame construction is perfectly placed to support the NHS goals and deliver sustainable buildings that meet demands, says Alex Goodfellow, Group Managing Director of Stewart Milne Timber Systems.


The winter months often exacerbate the demands placed on the health service, with bed space and other resources often stretched thinly. Getting new facilities up and running is, therefore, more important than ever as the NHS seeks to meet growing demands on its services.

Not only is there pressure from a time perspective, in terms of ensuring facilities are available where and when required, but quality is clearly of the utmost importance. Sustainability is also a key consideration, both from the perspective of environmental benefit, and as an effective way to optimise operational expenditure by saving on fuel bills.

Indeed, at the beginning of this year leaders in the sector came together to outline a strategy which would reduce its environmental impact, while acknowledging the financial restraints in which the NHS currently finds itself.

Timber systems, combined with offsite build techniques, are able to meet all of these requirements within rigid quality and deadline requirements. That’s why an increasing number of health boards and trusts are turning to timber systems for their new facilities. It’s a trend reflected in many other sectors too.

There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, it’s one of the most technologically advanced forms of construction. It assures the timescales of build programmes through the use of offsite construction methods. Manufacturing in factory conditions means projects don’t rely on favourable weather conditions. During the winter months, that’s particularly useful given the poor weather we’ve come to expect across the UK.

What’s more, with offsite construction there’s a reduced requirement for labour on site, streamlining the project even further. In fact, according to industry body Buildoffsite, companies that manufacture offsite finish construction 50% faster than firms which use traditional construction methods – that has clear benefits for NHS projects with non-negotiable timescales.

Secondly, timber systems enable the project to be value engineered from the very earliest stages. The flexibility, sustainability and predictability of timber in terms of timescales, budget, and energy performance – as well as a range of other associated benefits – make it a perfect choice for many construction projects.

Thirdly, it’s renewable, and extremely sustainable. Timber can reduce the embodied carbon of a structure by up to six times when used instead of more energy intensive materials. For every cubic metre of wood used instead of other building materials, an estimated 0.8 of a tonne of CO2 is saved from the atmosphere.

Similarly, facilities can expect excellent energy performance from their timber system facilities. We often talk about a ‘fabric first’ approach; that is, selecting a build fabric which inherently possesses the required qualities for the project objectives. Through the use of energy efficient timber, combined with a fabric first approach, it’s possible to eliminate the requirement for “bolt-on” devices to meet energy standards. What’s more, it can deliver an overall energy reduction of up to 33%.

As cases in point, earlier this year we announced our involvement on a major project in Ayrshire where we’ll be working with Balfour Beatty and NHS Ayrshire & Arran on a major £47m initiative to deliver the health board’s Acute Mental Health and Community Development project. The timber systems will be manufactured offsite to ensure an on-time, on-budget delivery.

Starting this month, we’ll be working to a 23-week build schedule on this 12,465m2 project. The wall panels we provide will offer a U-value of 0.22 w/m2K, and the roofs 0.16 w/m2K, while we will also achieve an air tightness of 5. Combined, these factors will provide excellent energy efficiency and thermal performance for the facility.

The hospital will also feature 140mm external wall closed panels with 120mm, 0.022 polyurethane insulation, and roof trusses with 18mm plywood sarking. All internal partitions will be erected with 9mm OSB sheathing, with bathroom pods loaded in. To further speed up the build, our teams will manage a scaffold-free build onsite.

We’ve also worked on projects with Laing O’Rourke on two facilities for the Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation. Monkwearmouth Hospital is a 24-bed facility for patients living with dementia, while Ryhope Hospital is a 122-bed mental health treatment centre. Both projects specified the highest standards possible for timescales, waste reduction, safety measures, and overall cost of the projects.

Timber systems were, therefore, the ideal choice. Working with both Laing O’Rourke and Medical Architecture from an early stage, a number of opportunities were identified to maximise value, streamline the build programme, and ensure efficiency. Prior to beginning the project, we employed Building Information Modelling (BIM) to maximise the lead-in period and design efficiencies to help meet the challenging timeframes. This meant we were able to design both the structure and the services in tandem, avoiding any clashes and subsequent delays.

To realise the exacting energy standards required for both hospitals, we employed a closed panel wall system to achieve a U-Value of 0.26w/m2K. This had the added benefit of maximising cost efficiency through reduced labour time and less waste. This approach also achieved excellent thermal bridging, with an air tightness of 4, on the latter project.

As the NHS endeavours to cope with a broad range of pressures, timber systems are an excellent way of ensuring that new construction facilities are completed on time, on budget, and to extremely high quality standards.

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