Are hospitals with 100% single patient bedrooms the answer to healthcare needs?

It has been an exciting time for us in the UK healthcare business. Having for the past ten years advocated the single patient bedroom, both through our own efforts and in conjunction with the National Patient Safety Agency, we have seen the first 100% single bedroom NHS hospital becoming operational (Ysbyty Aneurin Bevan in South Wales) and the completion of a two year study at Hillingdon hospital (The Bevan ward – west London). They will shortly be joined by two more 100% single bed facilities at Pembury hospital in Maidstone, Kent and the Ysbyty Ystrad Fawr in South Wales. Arup was involved in all four projects and therefore I think we can claim to have been influential.

So what is all the fuss about, you may ask? Well, simply put, it seems that the UK has missed a golden opportunity to set the standard for the next generation of acute facilities – we can take this to mean 60 years! I make this comment based on the 76 operational Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contracts with a construction value of approximately £6bn and an annual running cost of £890m currently in existence in the UK (England to be specific), with only the hospital at Pembury in Kent being of the 100% single bedroom variety.

There is no doubt that the issue of single patient bedrooms is an emotive subject and, until the Hillingdon study, broadly intuitive. When asking groups of people for their preference there is always some sympathy for the multi-bed unit. We could put that down to the majority of patients in the UK never having been in single bed accommodation. Therefore their benchmark is that of multi-bed ward unit.

However, let’s stick to the intuitive elements of the argument and make some statements to test our hypothesis:

1. The majority of patients would value privacy and dignity when they are receiving treatment in an acute setting. This does not mean sharing a space with three or five strangers.
2. The use of single patient bedrooms allows better access to rest and effective sleep patterns. This may impact on speed of recovery.
3. The use of single rooms gives patients some control over their environment. This may reduce stress and have an impact on speed of recovery.
4. A single patient bedroom offers an ideal environment for one to one conversations with clinical staff, family and friends.
5. Reducing the number of people that enter a patient bedroom could influence the micro-biological load that enters the room. This is at a maximum in a multi-bed room and a minimum in a single patient room. Reducing the opportunity of the spread of infection may impact speed of recovery.
6. Being in a multi-bed patient room can be stressful depending on the mix of patients. This stress may increase the length of stay of patients.
7. The new Z generation (digital natives) are happier to spend the short time in an acute hospital bedroom on their own. This assumption is based on the “community” of the Z generation being founded on digital social networks rather than physical communities.