LV infrastructure overhaul across a live hospital site


A two-part project to overhaul the electrical infrastructure at West Heath Hospital (Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS FT) has brought the career of one estates manager full circle. Gary Hayward was an apprentice in the late 1960s, and trained with an electrical contractor that originally installed part of the existing Low Voltage (LV) electrical infrastructure at West Heath Hospital during the construction of the main ward block. More than 50 years later, he and fellow estates manager Andrew Hill were nominated for a HEFMA award for their role in the project to modernise the LV infrastructure and future-proof it for the next 50 years, including allowing for the possible addition of new clinical buildings on the site, as per the Trust’s Estates Strategy. 


Part One

Various surveys and fixed electrical wiring inspections had identified the LV infrastructure as being in poor condition. It needed to be upgraded to future-proof the site and maintain the Trust’s ability to provide high quality care. In its poor condition, it constituted a risk to the Trust, and was recorded onto the Trust’s Risk Register. 

Planning started in early 2022 when an electrical consultant was appointed to design the new LV infrastructure. One of the biggest challenges of this project was that all work had to be carried out in a live hospital, which meant LV services to the site could not be switched off. The Trust provides assistance with community beds within the Birmingham and Solihull ICS group, and as a result of the need to sustain that service, together with winter pressures, the Board decreed that no wards could be closed. The Estates Team developed a task group with clinical and non-clinical representatives to bring this project to fruition with minimum disruption to the live wards. The group was led by the Head of Estates and the Head of Risk Management.

At all times during this project the team adhered to the Trust’s strategic objectives, prioritised patient safety and maintaining high quality patient care, ensured downtime of electrical services was minimised and remained mindful that the Trust’s staff needed to continue to fulfil their roles within the buildings whilst work was carried out. 

Once the new LV infrastructure design was approved by the Estates Team and the Trust’s Authorising Engineer for HV-LV, a tender was issued and a contractor with experience of this type of project was appointed. Preparation works started in August 2022, with the installation of several temporary LV Sub-Main Distribution Panels onto the existing supply. Working together, the estates and risk management teams produced an Electrical Shutdown Event Management Plan, communicating with onsite clinical teams to arrange the critical ward equipment that would need to be maintained by a back-up power supply during planned electrical shutdowns.

An Emergency Event Provider was employed to ensure full ‘business as usual service’ through the supply of several temporary generators outside the main ward blocks. These maintained all critical services within the wards, such as medical equipment, air mattresses, IT equipment, lighting and catering regen trolleys. 

The Event Management Plan addressed all aspects of patient safety during electrical shutdowns. For example, additional soft FM services were provided, including to transport patients to other clinical departments, such as X-Ray and physiotherapy, whilst shutdowns affected passenger lifts, and additional clinical staff were made available to sit with terminally-ill patients to give them reassurance during these isolations. 

The installation of the new LV infrastructure took several weeks to complete. Towards the end of November 2022, the estates team was able to start reinstating each of the electrical supplies across the entire site, whilst the Event Management Plan once again maintained business as usual. 


Part Two

The existing, 1980s back-up electrical generator was oversized - since the site had been reduced in 2008 - and not environmentally-friendly. The estates team worked with the generator supplier to carefully plan its removal and replacement with a new generator to coincide with the LV infrastructure works. 

The installation of the generator began on December 5, 2022, and required another electrical shutdown whilst the associated main incoming High Voltage Switch from the National Grid was replaced. Once again, estates and risk management teams worked together to create an Event Management Plan, which involved the installation of several temporary generators at all buildings, so the entire hospital site would run on generators whilst the work took place. Temporary generator connectors had been installed to each block within the design of the new LV infrastructure, so introducing these generators did not require any downtime of electrical services. In this way, the project was future-proofing the site, and providing 100% resilience in the event of a power failure. 

The installation of the new generator took three full working weeks to complete, with three days commissioning. By December 22, the site was ready to be returned to its permanent supply, with the new generator as a back-up. Each ward block and building was taken off its temporary supply and switched back to mains power. To test the entire LV installation, the estates team also carried out a black start to ensure the new generator operated in the event of a power failure, which it did. 

This project demonstrates that major projects like this can be carried out within a live working hospital without causing major disruption, by adopting close working practices and liaising with all departments within the Trust, and by adhering to the Trust’s Strategic Objectives. “It was a great project, delivered with care and efficiency by the team,” Claire Hennessy, Director of Estates and Facilities tells HEFMA.

For estates manager Gary Hayward, there was a particular sense of satisfaction from knowing this project would keep the electrical infrastructure at the hospital fit for purpose for the next 50+ years. 

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