Following a competitive tendering process in 2021, Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital NHS Foundation Trust appointed Medical Air Technology (MAT) to replace its existing containment level 3 (CL3) facilities.
The work, at Exeter’s Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, was successfully completed, and the Trust now has a new, highly advanced laboratory that MAT says ‘future-proofs its ability to safely process high-risk specimens from hospital and community patients for years to come’. All work was completed during the pandemic, presenting some challenges around material shortages and delays of vital components, but thanks to close cooperation between MAT, suppliers, and the hospital, any delays were minimised. MAT says this illustrates one of the many benefits of working with a single total turnkey provider. A safe working environment was maintained throughout, with no cases of COVID-19 among the MAT on-site personnel.
One unusual problem encountered was seagulls, which had chosen to nest on the roof where the new mechanical plant was to be located, and were very aggressive towards anyone attempting to access it. Although work had to be postponed until the new fledglings had left the area, this did not hinder the project’s success, and the Microbiology Department was extremely happy with MAT’s work. The Department’s staff said: “We are incredibly pleased with the work and the workmanship from the whole MAT team. Its knowledge of the building requirements, application of the build, and production of the finished product, were seamless.”
Matthew Allen, the Trust’s Laboratory manager, said: “The MAT team was efficient, accurate, and incredibly tidy. During the build, everything was orderly, and the team was active in keeping all access and work areas neat and tidy. There was minimal disruption to the Pathology Laboratory/offices/parking, and all major deliveries and use of the crane for siting of the AHU were carried out at weekends, or out of regular office hours, to minimise the impact.
“There were hiccups along the way – nesting seagulls, for example, which delayed the project, especially when installing the AHU, but all were managed with minimal overall impact on the project. We would recommend this team for any laboratory development. The staff were brilliant – knowledgeable, accurate, and efficient. We couldn’t be more pleased with how MAT managed the build, and ultimately delivered the finished product.”
CL3 is the highest containment level in common UK use, and laboratories of this type require certain features to be incorporated into the design to ensure appropriate containment. The MAT design team, ‘experts in critical ventilation’, worked closely with the Microbiology Department to turn the plans for the new laboratory – to include rooftop mechanical plant – into reality.
Airflow plays a vital part in the design of CL3 facilities. Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) regulations require that at CL3 the workplace must be maintained at an air pressure negative to atmosphere to stop the escape of hazardous pathogens. This is achieved via the specialist airflow created by the HVAC system, which establishes and maintains the negative pressure, thus ensuring containment and operator safety.
With many successful CL3 projects to its name, and a wealth of experience in critical ventilation, MAT has created what it describes as ‘a technologically advanced laboratory that complies with all necessary HSE guidelines’. Work started with a strip-out of the four existing laboratories on the Pathology building’s third floor. The turnkey installation included a full electrical and mechanical package, a BMS control system to supply the extract air systems, three Class 1 microbiological safety cabinets, a new pass-through autoclave and specimen hatch, dedicated waste disposal options, and new furniture, as well as safety and security features for staff.
As part of the project, the external windows were replaced with new highly-efficient units containing solar reflective glass, which reduces the amount of heat entering the building. A full fumigation efficacy study of the facility was also undertaken, and the new laboratory was handed over following commission and validation.