Cancer Hub Royal Marsden

Ahead of the Healthcare Property & Development Conference we’ve been hearing from Sunil Vyas – Director of Projects and Estates at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust – discussing the impact of Covid on their estate, the importance of property in user experience, and the need to create a more climate friendly estate. Read:

Q. Based in London and Surrey the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust is a leader in the field of cancer treatment and research. Tell us a little about the Trust and the amazing work it does?

The Royal Marsden opened its doors in 1851 as the world’s first hospital dedicated to cancer diagnosis, treatment, research and education. Today it operates as a specialist cancer hospital and National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre for Cancer, working closely with its principal academic partner, the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR).  Together, The Royal Marsden and the ICR are ranked in the top five cancer centres in the world for the impact of their research, treating over 59,000 NHS and private patients every year.

It is a centre of excellence with an international reputation for ground-breaking research and pioneering the very latest in cancer treatments and technologies, as well as specialising in cancer diagnosis and education.

The Royal Marsden operates from two centres, in Chelsea and Sutton, and we also have a Medical Daycare Unit at Kingston Hospital.

Q. You’ve led the efforts to ensure cancer treatment is provided during the Covid-19 pandemic – creating the UK’s first specialist “Cancer Hub” to treat patients safely whilst working with ten other trusts across London to provide support for their patients. It’s an incredibly effort. How were you able to react so quickly from an estates perspective?

With a strong in-house team, we were able to quickly modify ventilation systems to be more suited to the treatment of COVID patients and increased our oxygen capacity.

Our Estate is in a reasonable condition and the majority of modifications were relatively simple, turning some more open areas into partitioned and segregated areas.  With our neighbouring General hospitals treating more COVID patients, we could focus on cancer treatment, including supporting treatment of patients from other hospitals. This has meant increasing diagnostic facilities as we now have a surge of cancer treatment.

Q. In the case of the Cancer Hub you’ve worked collaboratively with other Trust’s to ensure treatment is still provided, is this something you’re all doing as Trust’s in terms of your estate, property and capital projects – do you often get together to share learnings and best practice as a sector?

We do have the opportunity to learn from other Trust’s capital projects, but probably more from the design consultants we work with who tend to be healthcare specialists working across a number of hospitals.  Maybe as a result of COVID and how busy NHS staff get, there are less cross organisation meetings although the Trust’s Deputy Director of Estates does chair the National Performance Advisory Group for Estates professionals.

Q. The National Cancer Patient Experience Survey placed The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust in the top ten for patient feedback – and the top trust in London. How important is the estate and its surroundings to this?

It’s very important.  To be treated in one of the top five cancer centres in the world, you need to have the Estate to support that.   Also, to get good feedback you can’t have long waiting times for patients who are understandably anxious, so we have a lot of diagnostic equipment that constantly needs changing and updating to reflect new technologies, this results a constant stream of building projects and maintenance.

Q. You’ve been looking to bring down your carbon emissions – tell us a bit about your plans to do this in both the short and longer term?

This is now one of the biggest challenges all NHS Trust’s face.  The NHS is responsible for about 4% of the nation’s carbon emissions.  If we are to succeed in these overarching climate goals the NHS has to be a major part of the solution, hence it has just set its own target of achieving net zero by 2040.  The Royal Marsden are currently installing a new CHP in Chelsea and focusing on a behavioural change programme and improving BMS controls across both sites, all new builds are to be BREEAM excellent / Outstanding and we are looking at working with TfL and the local authority at improving public transport to reduce on site staff parking for staff.

Q. You’re developing a new £70m cancer facility known as the Oak Cancer Centre, what stage is the project up to and when would you hope the scheme to be opening by?

The site has been cleared, our piling contract is underway and we hope to be complete by December 2022

Q. In terms of the longer term impact of Covid-19 do you think your plans for that new development might be revisited due to learnings taken from the pandemic, and the same for the existing estate – do you think changes will be needed across healthcare estates when we review how they’ve performed through the pandemic? 

We are looking at our ventilation design and looking at the COVID compliant and non COVID compliant capacity for each room.  Also, any new inpatient area is likely to involve more single rooms in the region of 70% plus.

Q. The Healthcare Property & Development Conference will bring together NHS Trusts, private healthcare providers, developers and the built environment industry. Why is this an important date in the industry calendar?

It gives me a view on what people outside the sector are doing.  In the NHS especially of late there have been several urgent priorities so we don’t make time to know what other people are doing in other sectors.  For example, I am particularly interested in how other non-NHS organisations are bringing down their carbon footprint.  Heathrow Airport, BP and Shell have all published plans to get to new zero at or before 2050.  If your business is extracting fossil fuels for the ground that is a considerable challenge, so getting some of the detail behind people plans would be useful.