Special report - Sea bathing infirmary gets a long-awaited facelift

The story behind the redevelopment of the Royal Sussex County Hospital

The new Royal Sussex County Hospital

In November last year approval was finally granted for the long-awaited last phase of the redevelopment of the Royal Sussex County Hospital. Here, editor, Jo Makosinski, speaks to the team behind the £484m project, which has now started on site

The Royal Sussex County Hospital was first opened in 1828 as a sea bathing infirmary with just 40 beds, before expansion saw it become, first a general hospital which, today, treats hundreds of thousands of patients every year as the teaching hospital for the South East region.

The idea of a comprehensive redevelopment was first mooted as long ago as the hospital’s centenary year in 1928 and, last November, the trust finally got the good news it had been waiting for when the Treasury approved the final business case for what is being referred to as the 3Ts Redevelopment project.

After nearly seven years of planning and preparation, on 4 January this year work began on site, marking the start of a nine-year transformation that will see all the buildings at the front half of the hospital site replaced with state-of-the-art facilities.

Under the proposals the improvement work will be carried out in three stages and will provide new inpatient wards, theatres and clinical spaces; the regional centre for neurology and neurosurgery treatments; an expanded Sussex Cancer Centre with increased radiotherapy provision and double the number of beds; an improved major trauma centre with a helideck; and space for the Brighton and Sussex Medical School.

Duane Passman, director of the 3Ts Redevelopment, said: “Originally the infirmary was designed more as a country house than a hospital and for an awfully-long time we have known that the buildings needed replacing. 90 years after the idea of a redevelopment was first mooted, we are getting quite close to doing just that.

“This is now the oldest acute hospital in the country and while we keep it dry and clean, we all agree that it needs to be modernised and that we need to do this for the residents of Brighton and Hove and the wider population across Sussex and sections of Surrey and Kent.”

Currently, around 30% of patients living in the area have to travel outside the county for certain medical interventions. The redevelopment will mean most of those can now be treated much closer to home.

The building is being delivered through the NHS ProCure21 framework by a consortium led by construction giant, Laing O’Rourke.

In total, around 40% of the current site will be redeveloped, linking to buildings that have been updated in a piecemeal fashion over the past few decades.

In terms of the design, the team has put together plans which, they believe, will rival the award-winning Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital, which opened on the site in 2007.

Passman said: “That development won the Prime Minister’s Better Public Building Award in 2008 and has since won other major architectural prizes. With the new Royal Sussex County Hospital, we want to provide something at least as good as that.”

The building has been orientated so that the vast majority of inpatient rooms have a sea view.

This is now the oldest acute hospital in the country and while we keep it dry and clean, we all agree that it needs to be modernised and that we need to do this for the residents of Brighton and Hove and the wider population across Sussex and sections of Surrey and Kent

Passman said: “Effectively, we are putting a hospital in a city centre, so we have had to approach the design in a way that means the building fits into its surroundings, while providing a landmark for the city and providing the best-possible patient experience.”

Neil Cadenhead of BDP architects, which designed the building, added: “We like to think of hospitals as being part of where they exist. They are not ‘anywhere buildings’, but relate to their surroundings.

“With this development, we have picked up on the nature of the English Riviera, with the colours of the sea on the architectural features producing a building that would seem at home in this part of Brighton.

“At the beginning of the journey we took lots of photographs of the city and they have informed the more-practical design decisions.

“We also had to look at the patient journey and the synergies between all the departments.

“I think with the final designs, we have succeeded in meeting all the challenges and providing a building that will vastly improve the environment for patients, staff and visitors.”

The development as a whole encompasses 96,000sq m. The largest of the two main buildings will be 12 storeys, which will be broken down into three wings pointing towards the sea.

A new, spacious main entrance will also be built, from which patients will be guided into the various clinics and treatment areas. It will house retail outlets, a performance area and will provide access to an underground patient car park.

Colours and materials for the project have been chosen to reflect the local area, with a nod to the sea and beach huts throughout the cladding and interior design scheme.

The first stage will see a pre-cast concrete façade installed with generous curtain walling around the entrances.

Effectively, we are putting a hospital in a city centre, so we have had to approach the design in a way that means the building fits into its surroundings, while providing a landmark for the city and providing the best-possible patient experience

“Throughout the design we have had involvement from interior designers and graphic designers,” said Cadenhead. “How the inside of the building is designed is just as important, if not more so, as how it looks from the outside.

“Although we are still to agree on much of this detail, there will be a colour strategy running throughout the various floors and we aim to use this, and other detailing, to aid with wayfinding on what is quite a complicated site.”

The challenge of working on a site with buildings that will be both retained and demolished also means construction work will need to be carefully planned.

Passman said: “As much as we can we will be using off-site construction methods and we have put together a decant programme to ensure that services can continue to operate while the work is being carried out.

“In some cases services will move into temporary accommodation for as long as four years while the work is carried out.”

He added: “More than 160,000 patients a year will benefit from the redevelopment, which will bring key emergency and specialist services together under one roof, ensuring immediate and co-coordinated healthcare for the most critically ill.

“Modern, spacious and fully-equipped wards will ensure patients receive safe, clean and first-class healthcare moving forward.”

Turner & Townsend is providing project management and cost advisory services to the project.

Modular buildings enable construction work to begin

To ensure medical services continue to be provided during the redevelopment project, two decant modular buildings are being constructed on the site.

Nearly completed, the facilities will house the clinical services that need to move so that the main building work can push ahead.

The three wards from the Jubilee Building are moving into the Courtyard Building, next to the Thomas Kemp Tower. The Hanbury Building, at the front of the hospital, will open in May and will accommodate physiotherapy, rheumatology, nuclear medicine and the asceptic pharmacy.

The work is being carried out as part of a £10m contract won by Portakabin Group.

The offsite approach allows the constrained courtyard site to be utilised, with the Yorkon modules craned into position over a plantroom building.

By using a modular solution for both schemes, the facilities will be built to permanent standards, with a 60-year design lifecycle and in compliance with NHS requirements, but will have the flexibility to be removed, recycled and relocated to another site if necessary.

Offsite construction is also reducing the programme time to allow the early commencement of the main redevelopment.

Duane Passman, director of 3Ts at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “These two buildings are crucial to unlocking the space for the main hospital redevelopment to go ahead and to providing the highest standards of care during that programme.”

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