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Health check

Hugh Pearman

Hospitals have come a long way since Brunel's Nightingale Wards and they're still going.

Our image of hospitals is still conditioned by the 19th century development of the ‘Nightingale Ward’ but another innovation of the time is perhaps more relevant to today: prefabrication. Following Florence Nightingale’s reports of ghastly hospital conditions in the Crimean War, Brunel’s 1,000-bed prefabricated timber field hospital at Renkioi was commissioned in February 1855. He designed a standardised, repeatable two-ward module in six days.  It took five months to make 60 flat-pack modules and send them out on 16 ships. By July 1856 the hospital’s first ward was operational in the Crimea. Death rates for the wounded were 10 times lower than in normal field hospitals. They were wooden huts but, as Nightingale said, ‘magnificent huts’.  If only building for health could be that straightforward and speedy today.