With a decade of plans, hopes and dreams behind it, Birmingham’s new £545m “super-hospital” is kitted out with some of the most advanced, brightest ideas in the NHS. Health Correspondent Alison Dayani takes a sneak preview at the landmark building.
As the first new hospital in Birmingham for 70 years, there has been immense pressure to ensure the results were befitting to the city’s high expectations.
Wondering around the near-complete curved white and lilac corridors of the space-age Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham, I am not disappointed.
But it is not the shimmering floor-to-ceiling glass design and views across the Lickey Hills from one of the en-suite patient rooms that impresses me, but the technology within it – created for and by doctors and nurses at the current Queen Elizabeth and Selly Oak hospitals which this huge building will replace in June next year.
Futuristic-looking suspended pods feature every tool a critical care nurse needs, vacuum machines suck blood samples and other tests direct from wards to laboratories along snaking tubes and special showers hidden within walls to improve conditions for burns patients are the kind of extravagance normally seen in TV shows like Grand Designs.
These are undoubtedly unprecedented advances not seen in most hospitals across the UK and something that will certainly draw national interest from health executives and specialists around the country.
Former health authority member and retired clinical director at Sandwell Hospital, Dr Barrie Smith, knows only too well the dramas of moving into a new hospital when he oversaw Sandwell replace its predecessor of Hallam Hospital, in West Bromwich, in the late 1970s.
Dr Smith trained as a medical student at Edgbaston’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital in the late 1950s and despite working in the NHS and as doctor to Aston Villa Football Club until 2004, the medical expert who created the first critical care unit in Sandwell was astounded by the advances in clinical technology.
“It really is impressive,” said Dr Smith. “It just shows how far technology within the NHS has moved in the past 30 years.This new hospital is needed as Selly Oak Hospital is becoming an old lady now.
“I am just relieved that it was designed from scratch using the advice of medical staff to create something they need.
“There have been many disasters when something is centrally planned and it is hard to make changes once contracts are drawn up. That is how we ended up with no intensive care at Sandwell and broom cupboards that had to be used to sterilise equipment.
“This is a different story though. The wards are as good as something seen in a private hospital and much more flexible than the traditional Nightingale wards in most older hospitals, which will help stop the spread of infection and enable men and women to be treated separately under the specialist ward they need.”
Critical care matron Helen Gyves has spent the past eight years living and breathing the new hospital project and looks on proudly. She was part of a team selected to design the critical care unit resulting in the special showers between burn patients so they would not have to leave the ward to wash or receive dressings. An addition that will make a huge difference as a major centre for burn victims in the region. Medics also came up with the suspended moveable ‘pods’ hanging from the ceiling supplying oxygen, electricity and electronic notes so less wires are draped around beds and over the floor dangerously.
The matron is also excited about the new hospital trialling its own dialysis fluid machines that can be reused with less waste – the first trust in the UK to do this.
“Eight years ago, we were asked to think about what technology we would need in the future,” said Ms Gyves.
“We had to imagine what we would want if we could have anything. It was a rare opportunity to work from a blank sheet and create a new hospital just the way we would like it. I will never get this chance again and think we have come up with new innovative ideas.
“It’s been so long coming, I can’t believe it is almost about to open and take in patients, it’s very exciting.”
Most wards will have 36 beds with a mix of single rooms and four-bedded units, all en-suite and same-sex, so men and women will never share a room.
More single rooms are aimed at stopping the spread of infections and provide more dignity and privacy for patients.
Instead of 16 theatres at Queen Elizabeth and 11 at Selly Oak Hospital, the new building will have 23 theatres together for inpatient surgery along with a further seven for less probing day case operations. Gas and electricity pods are suspended from the ceiling to create more space and a surgeons have an electronic panel and a clock on the wall.
Bringing all the theatres together rather than attached to various wards is aimed at making better use and time of the rooms with surgeons, anaesthetists and theatre staff in the same area.
While the Clinical Decisions Unit on the ground floor, near A&E, will hold 12 trolley bays for short stay patients expected to be hospital for 12 hours or less. Patients sent in for a check from GPs can also be examined here, which should speed up waits for patients.
Digital network points on the wall next to each bed will enable doctors to look at electronic patient notes such as X-rays, which currently can only be looked at in certain areas as hard copies.
The first patients will start being treated in less than a year and Dr Smith is pleased that the hospital has more substance to it than glamorous looks.
“Around 95 per cent of admissions are emergencies and those people won’t notice what a hospital looks like, it will be the staff and what the building enables them to do that they will remember,” added Dr Smith.