Patient hotels: A comfortable solution to the capacity crisis
While the NHS attempts to bring down major backlogs in elective care, Victoria Shaw, Principal Property Development Manager at NHS Property Services, outlines an effective estate based solution in the form of patient hotels.
It has been estimated that 12.2 million patients need treatment following the disruption the pandemic caused to health care services in the UK. But, even as Covid-19 admissions fall, the NHS is facing huge capacity issues as it looks to treat ongoing Covid cases, while it also seeks to address this backlog. Now, perhaps more than ever, we need innovative solutions to overcome this formidable challenge, and part of the solution could be patient hotels.
How do patient hotels work?
Patient hotels are not a new concept. In fact, in Nordic countries, patient hotels are part of the health service infrastructure, while in the UK, there are some patient hotels run by charities, such as the Cotton Rooms which serve as an alternative facility for patients at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
Located near hospitals, they are connected to facilities either through an underground or overhead tunnel, allowing patients and healthcare professionals to easily move between the two buildings. The hotels provide beds for patients and their family members, whether this be prior to, or following, surgery, as well as space for patients receiving treatment and care such as chemotherapy.
There are three main reasons as to why patient hotels are so successful. They improve the patient experience, can provide patient care for approximately half the cost and lastly, but most importantly, that they can free up space in hospitals for the patients that need around the clock care.
The patient experience
Improving the patient experience should be a goal that the health service continues to strive for, and, from a patient’s perspective, it is easy to understand how the option of sleeping in a hotel bed, alongside family members while having access to high quality meals is more appealing than sleeping in a bed in a busy hospital ward.
In addition to increased overall comfort, patients are less likely to catch a hospital acquired infection, which is associated with a longer stay in hospital. Therefore, patient hotels are a great option for step down, with patients who are undergoing certain surgeries spending two to three days in hospital, before being moved to the patient hotel to recuperate before being sent home.
They also work well for new parents, who can have their baby in the hospital and then spend time recuperating with their newborn and partner in the hotel, safe in the knowledge that the hospital is nearby if they need medical attention.
The hotels provide patients with an increased level of comfort and privacy that is not always achievable in busy hospital wards, for example, in the hotels, patients can be served restaurant quality food at any time of the day. There are even special refrigerators for medicines in the rooms, so patients can receive treatments such as chemotherapy in a more relaxed environment. The hotels offer a reprieve from a busy, clinical setting which is important not only for the recovery process, but also for those patients that find being in a hospital traumatic.
Cost reduction is another key advantage of patient hotels. While a hospital bed in the UK costs on average between £600 to £800 a night, a room in a patient hotel costs between £200 to £300 per night, resulting in a 50 per cent saving per bed. And this saving quickly adds up. Particularly for bigger hospitals. This is money that could be reinvested in the NHS to pay for additional nurses and clinicians or equipment to help tackle the patient backlog.
A backlog solution
So, given the clear benefits these hotels can bring, as seen in Sweden, how can we go about introducing these in the UK?
The government has committed to building 40 new hospitals by 2030 to help increase capacity for patients. Yet with the ever-increasing patient backlog, there must be plans in place to create capacity in the space the NHS already has available, and this is something that we at NHS Property Services (NHSPS), the government owned body that owns and runs 10 per cent of the NHS, have been doing throughout the pandemic.
Having launched a bed recommissioning strategy in early March 2020, which involved identifying and reconfiguring to create additional bed capacity, we helped the NHS cope with the increased number of hospital admissions that they were beginning to see.
We also have the only team in the NHS dedicated to town planning, and we believe that more needs to be done to create extra bed capacity, with the town planning process key to achieving this. From a health perspective, a detailed rethink of how the town planning system operates is long overdue and there must be a renewed focus to actively prioritise health. As such, patient hotels are a potential option for creating additional space in the NHS and could be set up if we look for opportunities to build them next to or near hospitals that have surrounding land to build on.
In addition to sufficient planning, getting hospital management on board is key to realising the potential of patient hotels. In some cases hospital management and health care professionals can initially be hesitant to begin working with patient hotels, as they can be seen to disrupt clinical flow, but when they receive positive feedback from their patients about their experience staying in the hotels and see how seamless the transition can be, they quickly become converts.
The patient hotels work with hospital management to create room booking systems, making it easy for health care professionals to secure rooms for their patients while ensuring they remain in charge of the chain of care. In addition, communal areas within these hotels can be utilised as another form of income, using these spaces for clinical, medical or business meetings.
We are not out of the woods yet, with the number of new cases of Covid-19 still in the thousands, and a large patient backlog that needs to be tackled immediately. While we await new hospitals in the coming years, patient hotels could also provide a cost-effective and viable option for those areas where new land cannot be acquired. In addition to saving the NHS money when it needs every penny and more, patient hotels can improve the patient experience and should be further explored as part of the backlog solution.