The Future of Healthcare Real Estate Development With Peter Ward

Nick Coppard, Healthcare Sector Lead at MRG, asks Peter Ward Director of Real Estate Development for King’s College London and Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust about his views on the future of healthcare real estate development

How will the Coronavirus pandemic affect future planning and design of the healthcare estates?

The pandemic has illustrated the importance of developing flexible buildings, both for healthcare and higher education.  That’s both because traditional buildings designed in a bespoke way have shown themselves to be quite inefficient when you try to adapt them to suit social distancing, but also because the way healthcare services are delivered are changing: for example during lockdown clinicians have become much more used to remote working including consultations, referrals and multidisciplinary team meetings.  Because it’s so hard to predict how things will change, the key will be to have really robust ‘base’ building designs that can be fitted out in different ways every 10-15 years as services and the way they are delivered changes.

What do you think will be the lasting effects on healthcare estate provision?

A recognition that it’s really difficult to predict how healthcare services will change over the life of the buildings from which they’re delivered, which often last 60 years or more.  Many of buildings we will be replacing were built in the 1950s and 1960s when sustainability wasn’t a consideration and healthcare priorities were more focussed on infectious diseases, trauma and issues surrounding peoples’ living and working environments.  Now we are living longer but suffer from longer-term illness associated with our lifestyles, and technological development has increased the range of specialist treatments.  So we can expect a trend towards a wider gap between specialist hospital facilities and buildings and technology that allow us to stay healthier for longer within our own community.

The NHS now appears to be rightly receiving the gratitude and recognition from the UK public and UK Government.  Are you seeing greater intent from UK Government around funding for the development of world class healthcare and medical research facilities.

There will inevitably be peaks and troughs in government funding over the life of hospital building programmes and it’s easy to trace the building programmes of the last century on most hospital campuses.  While capital investment – including recent announcements about prioritising the funding of hospital buildings – is always welcome, the most important thing is that hospitals and universities have a predictable pipeline of capital that allows them to plan for the longer term, because our buildings often take ten years to go from concept to delivery.  That will be good for UK PLC too, because we can plan the delivery of research programmes that deliver the next generation of biomedical discovery in line with the UK life science industrial strategy.

What impact has the pandemic had on the ambitious plan to create MedTech and Biomedical clusters in the heart of London?

At a time when the whole world is discussing this sector, there has been stronger interest than ever in the infrastructure that delivers new life science discovery and the highest standards of healthcare.Many property developers that would traditionally have focussed on commercial, residential or industrial property are recognising that there is significant value in developments anchored by institutions that will draw a wide range of tenants whose needs have historically been underserved in major cities in the UK.There are also growing links between London and other UK cities as institutions collaborate virtually more and more.

What about the wider construction and property market conditions?  Have you seen significantly more interest in healthcare real estate development from the construction and property industry, in the context of weakened conditions in the wider market?

?£?Yes – as with the reduced demand in the wake of the global financial crisis, there seems to be a ‘flight to quality’ – a strengthening of interest in good quality, flexible buildings that are collocated with stable and well-regarded institutions that will support open innovation amongst industrial partners who are able to clearly specify what they need from their physical buildings.

What is the key lesson you have learned from this pandemic?

That over the life of our buildings there will inevitably be healthcare and societal shocks and changes that were unthinkable at the time they were designed, so we should think of them in terms of a platform that supports changing service delivery, rather than something that only enables the current way of doing things.  That, and never to underestimate the commitment of our people!


King’s Health Partners is one of eight UK Academic Health Sciences Centres where world-class research, education and clinical practice are brought together for the benefit of patients.  It is a collaboration between King’s College London, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, and South London & Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust.

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