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How building design influences risk of infection in hospitals

How building design influences risk of infection in hospitals

"In the UK, one in 15 patients contract an infection when in hospital. Cath Noakes and Marco-Felipe King from the University of Leeds, have investigated the role building design and ventilation play in the risk of patients contracting infections. They simulated airflow and particle movement. They compared single rooms and four-bed rooms. And they considered where patients are placed when they were infectious." Cath Noakes thinks "about 20% of these may be related to the air and the environment in that building, and it costs the NHS hundreds of millions of pounds every year."

By modelling air current distribution of micro-organisms, these researchers found that surfaces, perhaps many metres away from the patient, could potentially be contaminated and without people's knowledge. People touching those surfaces could pick up pathogens on their hands and spread infection. The researchers think that perhaps their models could be used to look at the most risky parts of a hospital and at where there is the biggest concern about vulnerable patients - like us!

Australia's Radio National Science Show Podcast:



6 Replies

While I certainly agree that the DESIGN is important..

The BIGGER issue is the lack of proper maintenance..

As an engineer who used to maintain buildings on behalf of large American and British banks I am horrified by what I see in some hospitals.

I often see hospitals that have huge amounts of dust and debris surrounding the air ducts and grilles.

Unless it is a surgical operating room, air is either cooled or heated and then some is recirculated.

Thus the bacteria and germs in these dirty air ducts can be constantly circulating.

The same of course being true in many older aeroplanes which circulate the air. I am sure that many people have experienced arriving at their destination and then 48 hours later going down with a cold or flu…

So design is important, but even a good design can be ruined by a lack of maintenance..



Add hand washing to this list. Doctors and nurses going room to room.


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Shared toilets are a danger too! Medicines are dished out without hand washing.

Nothing to do with design I know but important just the same.



I just dread the day when somebody says I have to stay in a UK hospital.


Agree with all the above comments completely. However, a lot of problems aren't helped by low staffing levels and overworked nurses trying their best to get to everyone as soon as possible. Also, I read in an article that nurses are encouraged to come to work if they 'only have a cold' etc....owing to low staffing levels. They are then only allowed so many abscenses before having to go before occupational health to explain themselves. All down to money. Peggy

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Totally agree and funding issues make it worse.

I had to visit a patient in Southampton not long ago. Visitor parking is principally in a low level multistorey car park with the main entrance opposite.

This main entrance has such a huge footfall that the hospital rents out the space as commercial units to up its income. A huge WH Smith, Costa Coffee, 2 other cafes, a pharmacy for retail sales, and a ladies clothes shop are all present and doing a brisk trade. There may be more units that I can't recall.

The design of the hospital is such that there is no air lock between the retail complex and the medical, just an occasional set of fire doors.

Of course there are other entrances but they are not obvious and signage once inside to the wards is poor.


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