A design for life –Finsbury health Centre- a forerunner for NHS primary care
By Nathan Davies, on 3 December 2018
In this post Melvyn Jones talks about how the iBSc in Primary Health Care students visit a local GP health centre and learn about who it was developed to meet the needs of it’s patients on the eve of World War II.
The words of a 1940s poster “fight for it now” and its gleaming image of Finsbury Health Centre directly linked fighting during that recent conflict with needs of soldiers and a beleaguered population for a better life after World war 2. The pre NHS Finsbury Health Centre which opened in 1938 on the eve of war, offered a model of community based health care away from the hospitals, to meet the needs of its very deprived population; burdened with poverty, malnutrition, lice, TB and rickets.
Roll forward nearly 80 years and the current batch of iBSc in Primary Health Care students were shown how this building was designed to meet the health needs of that time; with lead lined walls for the TB x-ray screening service, the solarium was there to prevent rickets and the layout was designed to help clinicians provide the best care they could (the corridors are bright and diamond shaped to encourage interaction between staff). Dr Marie de Souza, one of the GPs working in the practice discussed how in some ways they are still using this building to deal with similar issues (communicable disease like HIV, vitamin D deficiency due to poor diet and lifestyle) and some issues we still can’t seem to address- we were shown the reception rooms in the basement where homeless families were temporarily housed. Yet there are newer challenges like the increasing burden for people with poor mental health. Rooms that once were used to de-louse bedding are now used to provide CBT. There are considerable constraints involved in providing 21st century health care from this grade 1 listed building (Lubetkin’s architectural master piece). A repair must look like an unsightly repair (so the building can be “read” by the streams of architectural students), a picture can’t be hung without permission from English Heritage, the door locks can’t be updated because the lead walls are indestructible. And yet, today on a sunny November morning, the light flooded in through the expanses of glass; glimpses of that gleaming 1940s image of hope.
The students were encouraged to think how they might shape the health service for the next 80 years and how the buildings we might get to design could reshape the care we could provide.