The environmental control of hospital buildings is particularly important. Appropriate temperatures and air flows are required to protect vulnerable patients from potentially harmful extreme temperatures and the spread of airborne pathogens. Uncontrolled temperature variations can also negatively impact some pharmaceuticals and medical equipment. Simultaneously, efforts must be made to minimise carbon emissions, which in turn impact the health of the population.
In 2010, the NHS estate in England comprised 30 million square metres, including 330 acute hospitals with a floor space of 18.83 million square metres. In 2008, the NHS was contributing 18% of the UK’s non-domestic carbon emissions, and around the same time 44% of energy use in NHS hospitals was attributed to heating and cooling. Trying to manage air flows and temperatures by installing energy hungry air conditioners would be costly and would likely jeopardise carbon reduction targets. For some time it was thought that large numbers of existing healthcare buildings would have to be demolished and replaced to address these challenges.
Since the late 1980s, Professor Short and his team have built up an award-winning body of research and built work around low energy non-domestic building design, which reduces environmental impact as well as costs. His work promotes natural ventilation, which regulates the movement of air without the use of mechanical fans by leveraging differences in air pressure, as well as taking advantage of passive cooling strategies, which seek to cool buildings with minimal energy consumption. Professor Short and colleagues have shown how eco-friendly methods could ensure the sustained safe use of many of the stock types of NHS hospital buildings for decades to come. His findings are now also shaping the design of new buildings around the world, and his expertise has been called upon to manage and report to the UK government on the NHS Energy Efficiency Fund and to establish energy efficiency guidelines for NHS healthcare facilities.
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Part of the Public Health: Research into Policy pilot case study series, highlighting the case for public health policy engagement.