Portakabin delivers ‘Dementia Friendly’ ward space right on schedule at Whiston Hospital, in spite of pandemic challenges

When the award-winning St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, required additional high-quality ward space for the Whiston Hospital in Prescot, they turned to a partner they knew could provide the health sector experience and expertise they needed: Portakabin.

Extra room was required for 52 beds to be placed in spacious surroundings where a ‘Dementia Friendly Scheme’ could be used throughout to improve facilities for Frailty patients. In this case it centred around contrasting colours for patient accessible areas as well as specialised doors, frames, grab frames and trims. All, of course, incorporating the usual provisions for hygiene and ease of cleaning.

The Trust were very keen to maintain the reputation they have for providing the very best in healthcare buildings and they were clear from the start that they wanted to see those standards reflected in the new buildings. Integration was a key component of the specification. The Trust had spent a lot of time designing the existing buildings and they didn’t want patients who moved from one part of the hospital to the new additional ward space to notice any appreciable difference.

It’s really important that our older patients can access the MDT team, therapists, social workers, pharmacists to mention just a few and that they can see them all in one place.

Kirsty Lion, Occupational Therapist, Whiston Hospital

Aside from the design challenges presented by the sloping site and the original tight time scale for completion, there was a further hurdle that no one could have foreseen. Unfortunately, the devastating Covid-19 pandemic hit the world during the five months on-site project installation phase of the programme.

The Trust voiced understandable concerns that the unavoidable constraints on supply chains and availability of construction staff might hinder the programme. However, Portakabin, the off-site specialist, was able to fully manage and mitigate all restrictions and possible delays and with fully Covid-compliant procedures in place, Portakabin still delivered the programme on time.

With the double storey, double spanned addition the whole of the therapy unit can now operate under one roof, a space they have named ‘Bevan Court’, and it means staff can facilitate a safe and timely discharge of patients from the unit from what Kirsty Lion, an occupational therapist at the hospital has described as, “…a lovely, brand new space.” 

To enhance the integrated look and feel of the new buildings they have been finished externally in ‘Whiston red’ to complement the existing environment. They also feature a bespoke canopy covering a newly added concrete ramp to accommodate the vital accessibility requirements.


There were a number of challenges for this installation, not least COVID-19 restrictions, but the resulting ward space has exceeded our expectations and has helped us to continue to provide optimum care for our patients. I think we’ve got a really high-quality building here, I think it meets all our needs. It’s spacious, it’s airy and I think patients will enjoy being in here.

Peter Williams, Project Manager, St. Helens and Knowsley NHS Trust

Sue Drenan Clinical Lead of the Frailty team adds that as far as she’s concerned,

“In this hospital we’re all about the patient and this is undoubtedly the best place for patients living with frailty.”

Talking about the total service that Whiston is now able to provide for Frailty patients and the community, Dr Michael Horner, Consultant Physician said,

“It’s made it a hugely exciting and novel way of providing care for older people. It’s a model of care that not many places offer, if any, so we’re somewhat forging the path here.”

Jess Leahy-Fitzgerald of Portakabin who worked on the project and who lives in the local area herself has spoken about what the unit means to the community and of the enormous pride that she and the whole team feel over what they were able to achieve.

“Frankly it’s been a positive light in what has been an awful time for everyone during this dreadful pandemic, especially the elderly and frail. It’s great to know that Portakabin was able to step up to the mark and that really comes down to the dedication of everyone involved from the start to the finish of this project.”

Meanwhile, Steven Smith who was also part of the Portakabin team put a lot of the success of the project down to the collaborative relationship and open dialogue between Portakabin and The Trust.

“The communication between us and The Trust was fantastic and I think that was the key.”

The last word on the shared vision and collaboration that resulted in the success of the  Bevan Court wards goes to Peter Williams from The Trust who summed up the project by saying,

“In any estates project the choice of partner is really, really important. I would happily work with Portakabin again and I’d happily recommend them to others embarking on similar projects.”

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