GP practices are outgrowing their existing spaces. Can the construction sector rise to the challenge?

December 13, 2022 5 Minute Read

By Alice Marwick


GP surgeries are the largest branch of British medicine and vital to local communities’ healthcare systems. The number of patients being treated by each GP practice is growing, with each practice servicing on average 2,222 more patients than in 2015. This is putting increasing pressure on the underlying infrastructure. According to the British Medical Association (BMA) survey, half of all GP surgeries across England are not fit for purpose due to chronic underinvestment. GP practices across England carry out 285m appointments per year, and to sufficiently meet the demands for services, NHS staff need adequate facilities and infrastructure to assess and care for patients. A report from the Primary Care Network highlights that primary care infrastructure continues to be a limiting factor; 70% of GP surgeries are now considered too small, and over 50% have received no investment or undergone refurbishment in the past ten years.

One of the problems the construction sector faces, is the difficulty retrofitting or making upgrades to primary care surgeries. GP surgeries are typically residential conversions that are now not fit for purpose as they are outdated, energy inefficient and unable to serve a growing ageing population with complex healthcare needs. Few GP practices are purpose-built, which means retrofitting older GP conversions is more problematic than upgrading purpose-built care centres. This is putting additional pressure on local governments to move away from smaller, converted GP premises and fund new primary care centres which will ease pressure on hospitals.

Whether the construction sector can meet the changing needs of GP practices will depend on resources available to local commissioners. Primary care professionals are calling on the Government to allocate more funding to support building and expanding primary care clinics to treat the growing needs of patients in the community. There will always be strong demand for the primary care sector, yet strong demand will not be enough to entice an increase in funding. However, security of the asset is attractive to developers in times of economic downturn; in a downturn, the services provided by primary care are still essential. Therefore, there is less risk in healthcare construction than other sectors.

The construction industry is having to navigate a range of geopolitical and supply chain issues. Geopolitical turmoil has been affecting the import of raw materials, especially materials that are affected by Eastern European supply chains such as timber and metal. Furthermore, the wider issue of inflation has been affecting labour and construction costs. This has created a perfect storm, causing accelerating tender prices.

Ease of planning, partnering with developers who have specialist knowledge of the healthcare sector, and efficiency of design are also imperative to ensure that redundant space is minimised, costs are kept to a minimum, and the primary practice can adapt to the changing needs of the population.

If the construction industry can mitigate budget constraints through improvements in efficiency of design and modular construction, this has the potential to facilitate and standardise the design of primary care facilities in line with the NHS strategic planning and predevelopment framework. Developers and designers are already making use of standard layouts which are scalable and adaptable. Technology is playing a part in minimising underutilised space (such as storing patient records electronically and continuing with phone consultations adopted during the COVID pandemic), which will free up space needed for physical examinations.

In the current economic climate, budgets are being scrutinised ever more closely, but if the construction industry is able to deliver suitable, cost-effective premises within the NHS framework, this will result in a higher level of care for patients.