How to design with the end in mind 

As stage two of the $230 million Gold Coast Private Hospital is fast-tracked to meet demand, RCP’s James Goodson unpacks the challenges of managing the design process for healthcare facilities for an unknown future.

As population growth, changing demographics and advancing technologies transform the way we deliver healthcare, planning with the end in mind is more important than ever before.

Project management firm RCP is currently working on the $50 million expansion of the $230 million Gold Coast Private Hospital, a facility co-located with the $1.7 billion Gold Coast University Hospital.

The 50,000 sqm private hospital currently operates 284 beds and 13 operating theatres.

RCP provided project management and programming services on stage one, acting as a conduit with the client, Healthscope, and applying its experience in the healthcare field to steer the process.

Goodson says one of the project’s biggest challenges was planning for future expansion. With limited land availability, several concepts were explored by the project team to achieve the client’s future expansion requirements.

“We knew the hospital would require 284 beds and 13 theatres on opening, but would grow to need 400 beds and 26-plus theatres within 15 years. We started the design with the end-point in mind, and then worked backwards to make sure we could achieve that vision,” Goodson says.

The final masterplan incorporates a flexible space that can accommodate an additional 13 operating theatres and support spaces, future expansion of the day surgery and maternity units, an additional four intensive care beds and the addition of three 30-bed wards with support areas.

Planning for an uncertain future takes detailed research into future demographics, emerging trends and technologies, and a “bit of crystal ball gazing about how healthcare practices will change with time,” Goodson says.

“Population growth may suggest we will need more beds over time, but operations are getting quicker and so are recovery times. So, there is a bit of predictive work about how we design today to cater for the population tomorrow,” he explains.

At the Gold Coast Private Hospital, load-bearing walls have been eliminated, where possible, so spaces can be re-purposed over time. All the foundations have been designed to take the final load, and electrical and mechanical systems are ready to plug in services for new areas.

“This may cost more at the start, but saves money and time further down the track.”

Construction contractor Watpac completed the first stage in an impressive 26 months, and the first patient operation was held two weeks ahead of schedule. Construction on stage two is now underway, which will include 60 new beds, eight new operating theatres and four cold-shell theatre space for future fitout.

Goodson, who has “spent the last 15 years in hospitals”, says the most important aspect of good healthcare facility design is patient flow and departmental relationships.

“When hospitals grow organically, project teams are forced to shoehorn new services into existing space, which always ends up with a compromised design and is a wayfaring nightmare,” he says.

“And when you don’t have the right departments next to each other, it impacts the patient experience and functionality of the hospital. The secret is designing effectively from day one.”