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The pop-up hospital trend

posted: 4th Aug 2014

Many hospitals are adding modular buildings to their sites to see them through the peaks and troughs in demand for services, writes Jackie Maginnis from the Modular and Portable Building Association.

Pop-up hospitals is a new term used to describe the additional facilities fitted to hospitals to help them meet the demands on their services, for example, during winter when many hospitals are oversubscribed. For the well-established modular building industry however, it is not such a new concept; it is something the industry has been providing for many years. 

Healthcare establishments are being forced to face demands of a growing and ageing population. This is an especially difficult time for public healthcare facilities owing to the increased pressure on services to meet both government targets and policy. Senior NHS officials have previously commented that trusts are struggling to handle the pressures on Accident and Emergency units. In an effort to prepare for the extra demands in winter the NHS will have to think of alternative solutions. 

Key factors such as cost, the urgent need for more hospital space, minimum disruption time and the sustainability performance of a building, have led many healthcare establishments to turn to the alternative building method of offsite construction. 


From individual wards to GP practices and complete operating theatres, modular build can offer both a single element solution and complete turnkey solutions to ensure the environment is clean, green and safe. Created in a factory, not only are modular units properly planned and designed to suit the end user requirements, this also results in sustainability by spending less time on site, minimising disturbance and significantly reducing waste. 

Modular construction means a project will be completed fast and with fully functional modular facilities. The modular industry can also guarantee delivery dates, with buildings that are quality pre-checked, as many of the building elements are delivered to the site pre-fabricated. Build times can also be reduced by as much as 50 per cent compared to traditional methods, ultimately allowing the purchaser involved to deliver urgent clinical services faster.


The New Part L energy efficiency Building Regulations came in to effect at the beginning of April 2014. The measures that are taking place over the new few years will drastically lower carbon emissions and continue to significantly improve energy efficiency, providing a key role to help meet the government’s target of reducing the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. The modular industry was more than prepared for these changes. New buildings that are manufactured by members of the Modular and Portable Building Association (MPBA) will fully comply in the same way that traditional buildings have to. Members are also able to provide modular buildings for hire that are also required to prove energy efficiency. The MPBA has developed an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) scheme, allowing companies that specialise in offsite construction to provide customers with the relevant energy performance certification. 

This again allows situations that are in need of urgent facilities to have buildings up and running far more quickly than traditional buildings. It also gives opportunities for extending buildings where space is at a premium.

If you are looking for a building make sure that you talk to industry direct, this will without doubt save money. Ask the company to provide a turnkey package as this should reduce the number of people that you have to deal with. 

Make sure you have a clear idea of your requirements. If in doubt, take advice from the industry before expensive plans are drawn as fancy buildings can be costly. Check out existing buildings that are being used for same purpose. And if you need advice, talk to the industry association.


As a result of an explosion in winter illnesses last year, Basildon Hospital experienced an unexpected surge in the number of sick patients requiring treatment. 

This necessitated in an urgent demand for temporary space in which to accommodate a number of additional patient beds. A number of possible solutions were considered but eventually it was decided to look at renting a pre-fabricated modular building. 

John Barnes, estates project manager of Basildon Hospital, commented: “When we purchased modular space to extend our pathology department we were impressed with the value for money and service that we received from the supplier and so decided to contact them about our urgent need for temporary patient accommodation.” 

Drawings were turned round in record time and while the building modules were being fabricated, groundwork contractors were already constructing the foundations and laying the drainage ready to site the new temporary ward.

Neil Christie, manager of Portable Offices Luton, explains how they collaborated with the hospital team to bring the optimum design to fruition: “We ensured that the operational needs of the hospital were met by working closely with the nurses and the hospital team to produce a design that was not only practical but that would also exceed patients’ requirements and expectations. We also produced a series of feasibility studies to ensure the project direction was correct from the early stages onwards”. 

Designs were signed off by mid-November and by mid-December the building modules were delivered to site. In less than a month, notwithstanding Christmas in between, the new ward was handed over and the first patients were accepted into the ward on 12 January. 

Fully equipped with alarms, security doors, IT, medical gases, electrics, patient bathrooms and toilets, staff restroom, office reception, clinical areas, utility rooms and reception, the new ward accommodation has proved to be a godsend to Basildon Hospital. 

John Barnes highlights the most impressive aspects of the contract delivery: “The speed of fabrication and installation were exceptional with only seven weeks from design sign-off to handover. The quality and standard of the unit – warm, light, bright and modern – was significantly superior when compared to a number of competitors. The building was also exceptional value for money, far more cost-effective than other options. 

King College Hospital is a local acute care facility and major trauma centre for the south east of England, based in the London Borough of Lambeth. The part 5 storey modular wards and theatres at the country’s leading Hepatology (liver transplant) centre was constructed utilising new bespoke steel frame modular system.

The scheme was funded through a SSAP21 compliant Operating Lease arranged through an NHS Leasing Framework specialist to ensure compliance with the strict accounting rules. The building was completed in less than 12 months ensuring that critical operational dates were met and that disruption to the hospital was kept to a minimum.

The high performance volumetric steel structure was designed to ensure minimal deflection in all areas and incorporates concrete floors for the operating theatres. With a 60 year structural design life and a 25 year structural warranty, the new building complies with all relevant Health Technical Memorandum (HTM) & Health Building Notes (HBN) requirements. 

Sustainable and eco features incorporated into the design include increased levels of insulation, low-energy lighting, energy efficient heating systems and water-saving technology.


City Hospitals Sunderland is an Acute Trust which provides a wide range of hospital services such as A&E, surgical and medical specialities, therapy services, maternity and paediatric care. 

Sunderland Royal is one of four hospitals from which the trust delivers these services. The addition of a 120 in patient bed unit, incorporates a new “state of the art” Integrated Critical Care unit which forms an integral part of their plans to improve patient care in the North East of England. 

The National flagship ICCU will care for over 1,200 patients each year, offering both intensive care and high dependency for those who need a high level of nursing care. Critically ill patients will be cared for in one of the most advanced units in the UK. 

The main benefits of the new hospital extension include advanced infection control and privacy for patients, with the new facilities featuring more space, better facilities for family and friends and cutting edge technologies. 

The new unit is part of a £33million project that will be one of the best intensive care facilities in the country and the new standards of design will help fight hospital infections and give better facilities for patients, staff and visitors. The 9,000m² project was constructed using 106 steel frame modules, some of which are up to 19 metres in length and include the use of the latest technologies for robust floors. 

Units were typically 80 per cent finished before being moved to site, although in some cases may be 100 per cent complete. On-site, units are craned into position where all final connections are made. 

Quality assurance checks, undertaken by a dedicated team of quality assurance personnel, is a key procedure and is applied throughout the build process from tendering, through design and manufacturing, to erection on site. 

Less environmental impact with reduced waste and deliveries to site. The Royal Sunderland Hospital project has been designed to achieve BREEAM Excellent. The unit is also set to have an electronic pharmacy, using staff fingerprint recognition that can also send an alert for replacement drug stocks. Staff, who have helped design the new unit, will have the benefit of new facilities including changing areas and a training room.

Case studies provided by MPBA members. More detailed information can be obtained from Industry News Section on the MPBA website.


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