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Designed by patients, for patients

Hannah Mann talks to John Hughes

John Hughes
Head of Marketing

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John is a marketing and communications professional working at Essentia, a consultancy that designs, builds and manages innovative healthcare infrastructure and solutions.

Hannah Mann
Managing Partner Health, Europe
Hall & Partners Health

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An experienced business leader, Hannah has expertise in market insight across healthcare, customer behaviour, advertising research and brand equity.

A patient-centric approach can transform the experience of patients receiving treatment at state-of-the-art Guy’s Cancer Centre in London

Have you ever been to a radiotherapy room? If you have, you probably noticed that it was situated in the bowels of the hospital, usually in a windowless basement room. I recently learnt that the reason nearly every hospital in Europe does this is because it would cost too much to place the huge, heavy machinery anywhere other than on the lowest possible floor.

To anyone who hasn’t walked in the shoes of a cancer patient, this may seem an unimportant detail. Who cares where the machine is as long as it helps you get better, right? The reality is that this couldn’t be further from the truth.

It was a chance conference encounter with John Hughes, Head of Marketing at Essentia, that led me to learn this. Essentia helps hospitals to become more efficient and effective, as well as create the best possible patient environment for care. Their work at Guy’s Cancer Centre in London – the new state-of-the-art facility at Guy’s Hospital – is an exemplar of this.

John explained, “as soon as you walk into the building, the first thing you notice is that it doesn’t look or feel like a hospital. There are unique art installations throughout, sunlight floods through the large windows and natural textures surround patients. Everything about the building, from the layout to the interior finishes, is designed to make the whole process – which can be complicated and frightening – as easy and comfortable as possible.”

The new Cancer Centre at Guy's demonstrates collaboration with patients and where the future of NHS care lies
- Anne Rainsberry, Regional Director of NHS England (London region)

Patients and service users were heavily involved throughout the planning, design and construction process. Importantly, their suggestions moved most of the cancer treatment under one roof, where previously treatment had been provided in 13 different locations. They agreed it wasn’t only challenging for them as patients but also for the myriad healthcare professionals working together to treat them.

It was a patient’s suggestion to locate radiotherapy above ground – a revolutionary step and the first of its kind in Europe. Entering the bright, airy Radiotherapy Village above ground level has been a transformative breath of fresh air for patients. Now they take the glazed lift up to the first floor, to the sound of jungle wildlife, change into their robe and walk 20 meters to one of two brand new machines. They then lie on the bed, look up at the ceiling and there, above their head, is a visual lighting display which helps to calm and distract them during their treatment.

These tranquil surroundings belie the complicated engineering and reinforcements involved in locating the linar accelerators (linacs) above ground.

To further improve the patient experience, the centre is made up of a series of ‘villages’ dedicated to different aspects of cancer care. The design also brings relevant services together – for example, the pharmacy service is now inside the Chemotherapy Village, making the preparation of drugs easier and faster. It also includes a drop-in information and support service for cancer patients and their families.

We will keep developing our services so they continue to meet people's needs
- Dr Majid Kazmi, Clinical Director of Cancer Services at Guy’s and St Thomas’

Equally impressive is how the award-winning design reflects two complementary aspects of cancer care – the ‘Science of Treatment’, which houses the clinical, technological and research facilities, and the ‘Art of Care’, which features more social and interactive areas.

Indeed, the design of the building itself actually informed the model of care provided. The clinical team use the hub and spoke model, meaning that they go to the patient – who remains in the same consultation room – instead of patients going to them. This simple difference is a marked departure from the old system where patients might have seen several different clinicians based in different consultation rooms or worse, different buildings.

New technology and equipment also play a major part in improving care. For example, six linacs machines increases the number of people who can receive radiotherapy treatment every year. Furthermore, to help make clinical trials a normalised part of a cancer journey, the research team has a dedicated space inside the Chemotherapy Village. The goal is to increase participation by 30% – leading to more breakthroughs, speeding up adoption of new research, and improving medical research education.

This project... will undoubtedly transform cancer care and the patient experience
- Sally Laban, Programme Manager at Guy’s Cancer Centre

John tells me that measures are in place to evaluate the impact of this new approach so that Essentia can truly assess the difference it has made. However, while they wait for the hard facts and statistics, I can’t help but think that it simply just ‘makes sense’ that systems of care designed ‘by patients, for patients’ are where the future lies. Hopefully none of us will need to visit a hospital soon, but if we do we can only hope it’s been developed with the same ethos and courage as shown at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust.


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