The modernisation of the NHS ready for a post-COVID future

Dame Laura Lee Dame Laura Lee
Wednesday 28 April 2021
  • Dame Laura Lee
  • Coronavirus

For 25 years I’ve been at the helm of Maggie’s as we’ve designed, built and run cancer centres across the UK and abroad. We have worked with some of the best architects in the world to design our centres because we know that light, colour and a connection to nature can help people to feel better.

Every Maggie’s is architecturally unique, yet they are all built around the same founding principle; that interior architecture and design can have an amazing, positive effect on health and well being. Our centres are all built right alongside the hospital and are staffed by professionals with a healthcare background, but every centre is thoughtfully designed to be calming and welcoming; a place to escape from the clinical environment of the hospital.

Through my time at Maggie’s I have been very lucky to experience first hand, countless times the positive affect our non-clinical spaces have on people with cancer. How a beautiful, considered and well designed space can make the people in them feel valued and safe. How great architecture, landscaping and considered artwork can create a space that allows people to express how they’re feeling in a way a hospital space never could.

I’ll always cherish a memory from when I first started Maggie’s in Edinburgh back in 1996. I’d been looking after a patient in the hospital as her cancer nurse, but when she first came through the doors at Maggie’s she was completely different, so much more at ease, comfortable and able to express her emotions. All because she was in a space that felt like a home not a hospital.

It was incredibly powerful and it’s this effect that we’ve carried through all of our centres today. Centres designed for the people who use and work in them; uplifting buildings that place their needs right at its very core. Buildings which create a sense of place, encourage human support but also offer privacy and comfort when it’s most needed.

In our centres there are no reception desks and no clocks; instead, we have comfy sofas and plenty of time. We don’t have signs up on our walls, our staff don’t wear uniforms and we pay attention to the important little details that make people feel at home and valued. Plants, plumped cushions, comfy chairs, considered artwork, fresh fruit, furniture you can move around because you are in control, you are not being done to. A kitchen at the heart of the centre, just like a home, where you’re encouraged to make your own cup of tea, a small but important gesture. You are going through the worst time of your life and you deserve the very best.

After a year where the strain and importance placed on hospitals has never been so high it’s of huge significance that the government has announced it will be investing into new acute hospital infrastructure. The Wolfson Economics Prize, of which I sit on the judging panel, has announced this year's focus will be on radically improving the planning and design of hospitals in the future.

If we’re going to be investing in our hospitals in a post-COVID world, we need to make sure the investment has a wider health and societal outcome. We have a remarkable opportunity now to rethink what a hospital's primary purpose is, to think about the role hospitals can play in supporting its community. A chance to build upon what we’ve learnt at Maggie’s and to further explore what a hospital building can offer above and beyond its physical form.

I’d like to use this opportunity to reshape a hospital's role, not just as a place to come to when you’re ill but as a positive space where people can turn to and come together. A chance to create buildings not from a purely practical standpoint, but to take a human and design-led approach, with the intangibles built in from the very start. A chance to create a space that inspires and lifts a community by being architecturally special as a reflection of how a hospital values it’s community and a community values its hospital.

A quote from one of our visitors sums up the impact our centres have on people in a much better way than I ever could:

“It makes me feel special, I feel privileged to be in a place like this. There is so much attention to detail and beauty that is dedicated to making me feel better.”

Let’s use this post-COVID period as a chance for investment and change. A chance to really think about how we want to help people navigate through the healthcare system and come out all the better for it. An opportunity to get creative, innovative and make a real step change in how hospitals are designed, built and used for generations to come.