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more hospitable stay: the role of patient hotels 

By Paul Wells and Christopher Leonard

Delayed transfer of care from hospital to home or into social care, often referred to as ‘bed-blocking’ is a major issue for the NHS. As the population ages this is only becoming more acute. As well as affecting waiting times for NHS care, it can cause considerable distress and unnecessarily long stays in hospital for patients, not to mention increasing the risk of hospital-born infection.

Last autumn, the UK government announced the largest new hospital building programme in a generation, with £2.8 billion earmarked to modernise the NHS property estate, alongside over 40 new hospital building projects. The planned investment is renewing interest in the potential for patient hotels to alleviate the growing demand for hospital beds.

A patient hotel offers a bridge between hospital and home, providing accommodation for patients awaiting or recuperating from treatment, who need to be close to a hospital, but do not need a hospital bed.

A patient hotel might also be used by family members, as well as business and leisure users linked to the hospital such as visiting academics. These facilities are common in Finland, Sweden and Norway but have failed to take off in the UK, due in part to cultural barriers between the public and private sector, as well as funding complexities.

Once they are medically fit patients can be transferred to the patient hotel to recuperate while they are waiting for the necessary paperwork to be completed, or for the local authority to organise the next stage of their care in the community. It is not only better for the patient, but is also cheaper and more efficient for the hospital, freeing up an expensive hospital bed for those whose need is greater.

Patient hotels are not normal hotels. They are a hotel model, but with a different offering, providing a safe environment focused on health and wellbeing. Rooms have to be highly accessible and nurses’ stations and other medical-related support will need to be incorporated. Hospitals need to be involved from the start to make sure the facility meets their requirements.

Having said this this, it is important that patient hotels do not appear too clinical. They need to be designed with a hospitality mindset to create a distinct identity which appeals to a wide range of guests. An understanding of how to create open lobbies and engaging amenity space is crucial. It’s not just a functional exercise, it requires a deep appreciation of how guests react to spaces which comes from experience in the mainstream hospitality sector.

We are currently working on a proposal with a major UK building contractor for a patient hotel with a highly flexible design, using standardised modules for rooms, back of house areas, front of house functions and vertical circulation. The modular design can be easily adapted to different sites and allows building blocks to be added and removed as required to reflect need. Under our proposal a hotel operator would take a number of floors for business and leisure guests with the hospital block booking patient floors. Back and front of house facilities would be shared including a lobby lounge and a cafeteria.

Meeting room space will be available for guests or external bookings adding additional revenue. Accessible guestrooms are a standardised room type that can adapted for various patient and guest needs. The interior is calm with muted colours and natural finishes with good natural and dimmable lighting. Our aim is to create a home away from home feel that will aid relaxation and recovery.

It is clear that patient hotels have the potential to provide real benefits for hospitals and patients. We have already seen the extension of hospitality design into the workplace and home with the rise of co-working and co-living spaces, and into the wider health sector with retirement living. If patient hotels are to succeed as places that people will want to stay in, they also have much to gain from taking a hospitality mindset when it comes to design.