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Thursday 24 January 2019
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GP surgeries: the next generation

In October, NHS Property Services crowned the winner of its competition to find a design vision for the GP practice of the future. Valeria Fiore talks to Oliver Salway, director of Softroom, the firm behind the winning pitch

In October, NHS Property Services crowned the winner of its competition to find a design vision for the GP practice of the future.
 
Valeria Fiore talks to Oliver Salway, director of Softroom, the firm behind the winning pitch
 
Online consultations and the new NHS App: these are just some of the technologies that are reshaping general practice.
 
As more patient queries are dealt with online – be it through a quick internet search or an online consultation – there is a need to rethink the way care is provided in general practice.
 
In October, NHS Property Services (NHSPS) asked seven architects to pitch ideas for what the GP practice of the future should look like.
 
Architect Oliver Salway, director and co-founder of London-based design studio Softroom, only needed three minutes to convince NHSPS that his team’s idea was the winning one.
 
‘When we saw the shortlist of practices that had been chosen to pitch to NHSPS, most of them had significant healthcare experience and we don’t,’ he says.
 
‘So we had to approach it from a different angle. We rethought the GP practice of the future [not only seeing it] through the eyes of patients but also through the eyes of clinicians and admin staff.’
 
Mr Salway and his team immerged themselves fully in the GP practice world, studying every detail of the patient experience, from making an appointment to arriving at the practice and seeing a clinician.
 
‘GP practices are yet to respond to a raft of technological changes that are already happening. These present opportunities for how you redesign the physical space of a GP surgery.
 
For example, in the future, patients will have completed a lot of admin tasks, prescreening and initial consultations online before they approach the physical GP practice,’ Mr Salway says.
 
He suggests that the introduction of new technologies and ways of working in general practice are set to radically change the experience for patients, and that this will be enhanced through extra activities.
 
‘For example, we thought practices could have pop-ups offering patients advice on a particular treatment. Or it might be something like a wellbeing demonstration on, for example, a new type of nutrition.
 
‘One of the things the NHS is looking at is services provided by a range of different people, so these pop-ups are not something that the NHS or even the GPs themselves will have to fund. They could be funded by sponsorship,’ Mr Salway says.
 
As well as being creative with form and function, the Softroom architects also rethought the language of a GP surgery. ‘It can be as simple as changing the name of something to make you think about it differently,’ Mr Salway says.
 
‘So rather than talk about waiting rooms, which implies time spent waiting and a potentially negative experience, [we talk about] lounges.
 
Then they are not just about waiting but can become places where you offer a range of experiences.’
 
Mr Salway explains that these could include displays that promote wellbeing or the offering of diagnostics (such as taking blood pressure) in preparation for consultation.