Airline-style pods and gardens between wards among ideas for hospitals of future

First class airline-style pods in A&E departments, gardens between wards and starfish-shaped hubs are among the innovative proposals which could help inform the design of new hospitals.

Five ideas have been shortlisted for this year’s £250,000 Wolfson Prize – the second biggest economics prize in the world – which aims to find innovations to improve hospitals for patients and staff.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the entries would “help inform” what the Government has called the “biggest hospital building programme in a generation”, worth £3.7 billion.

Wolfson Prize
Smart ED, an airline-style pod for A&E proposed by one of the finalists for the Wolfson Economics Prize (James Lennon/PA)

Among the shortlisted entries is the “Smart ED”, co-authored by Dr Susan Robinson, a consultant in emergency medicine at Cambridge University Hospitals.

The proposals include first class airline-style pods in A&E departments for patients with less serious conditions, which have controllable lighting and mobile phone chargers.

Written during her spare time during the Covid pandemic, Dr Robinson claims that the Smart ED would be able to accommodate a three-fold capacity increase without having to convert additional space.

Another entry proposes starfish-shaped hospital hubs, which would divide up five core hospital activities (A&E, diagnostics, operating theatres, ICU and laboratories) into each “ray” of the five-ray starfish.

Wolfson Prize
Living Systems proposes an accessible ‘pocket garden’ between each ward (PA)

Deirdre King, who helped design the submission, said: “The starfish design will empower staff to provide optimal clinical services in a calm and welcoming environment, enhance hospital experiences for all, and offer a vision to build a healthier population.”

The starfish hospitals would also incorporate modern designs including plant-life and welcoming surroundings to make entering hospitals feel “like a five-star hotel”.

Meanwhile, an entry entitled “Living Systems” proposes a green hospital design which takes a multi-sensory approach and includes an in-house marketplace of local produce, a rooftop urban farm which helps supply the kitchen and an accessible “pocket garden” between each ward.

Wolfson Prize
Living Systems proposes a green hospital design which takes a multi-sensory approach and includes an in-house marketplace of local produce (PA)

Lord Kakkar, chairman of the judging panel, said: “Out of an exceptionally strong field, the shortlisted entries demonstrate particularly ingenious approaches. With a renewed focus on hospital building in the UK, these finalists have a really exciting opportunity to shape how NHS hospitals look, feel and function.”

Mr Javid said: “Hospitals are an intrinsic part of local communities, helping to save lives and keep people healthy.

“We’re on track to deliver 48 hospitals by 2030 which will give staff the facilities needed to continue providing top quality care for years to come. All our new hospitals will prioritise sustainability, digital technology and the latest construction methods, delivering state-of-the-art facilities for patients while maximising value for taxpayers’ money.

“This year’s Wolfson shortlist is packed full of innovative ideas to help inform these plans and I wish all the finalists the best of luck.”