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‘Airline-style pods for A&E’: Addenbrooke’s consultant in Wolfson Economics Prize final




Dr Susan Robinson, consultant in emergency medicine at Cambridge University Hospitals, is one of five finalists for the 2021 Wolfson Economics Prize.

Dr Susan Robinson, who is in the final of the 2021 Wolfson Economics Prize, outside Addenbrooke’s Hospital. Picture: Keith Heppell
Dr Susan Robinson, who is in the final of the 2021 Wolfson Economics Prize, outside Addenbrooke’s Hospital. Picture: Keith Heppell

The entry for the £250,000 prize, ‘The Smart ED’, uses innovation to rethink the emergency department. Patients with less serious conditions wait in airline-style pods, where they control the lighting and have access to phone chargers. The pods would triple A&E capacity.

“We wanted patients to think ‘somebody thought about us’,” Dr Robinson said of her entry for the second biggest economics prize in the world. “We have spent many years immersed in conversations about how both design and process are critical for the delivery of safe and effective emergency care, so it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to grasp the challenge offered by the Wolfson Economics Prize to design a new emergency department with the patient and staff as the starting point.

“The Wolfson Economics Prize gave us an opportunity to radically rethink the emergency department using real world, here-and-now technology and operational concepts that seek to reduce waiting times significantly, provide a safe and efficient work environment, be carbon neutral over its life cycle, be fiscally responsible and provide a way of testing new, advanced operational and architectural concepts before they are deployed systemwide.”

How the Smart ED pod might look
How the Smart ED pod might look

The Smart ED is at part of a revamped service which includes:

- 14-minute average waiting times at A&E, with patients greeted by a doctor the moment they arrive.

- First Class airline-style pods, taking up one third the size of a regular patient room, for those with less serious conditions.

- An automated parking tower for patients who arrive by car.

- Private rooms for patients with separate entrances for staff and visitors that increase flow and efficiency.

- Intensity and colour of lights controlled by the patient, with mobile charging points provided.

Pods could transform A&E departments
Pods could transform A&E departments

Dr Robinson added: “The pods are the design of our architect on the team, Jim Lennon. We wanted patients to think 'somebody thought about us'. They are an efficient use of space as they are a quarter of the size of the patient room but offer visual and audible privacy that is so lacking in many current NHS environments: many emergency departments have chair areas but these provide little privacy and do not enable a clinician to examine the patient properly - patients have to be moved to a room for this. Many patients can be assessed in such a pod leaving the rooms for those that require more interventions or a larger team to care for them.

“We estimate about 50 per cent of patients presenting to the emergency department could be seen in such a pod.”

Judges marked 98 entries from more than 250 organisations and 15 countries on the future of the hospital model.

Dr Susan Robinson, an emergency consultant, at Addenbrooke’s Hospital. Picture: Keith Heppell
Dr Susan Robinson, an emergency consultant, at Addenbrooke’s Hospital. Picture: Keith Heppell

Lord Kakkar, chair of the judging panel, said: “The entries to this year’s Wolfson Economics Prize have been exceptionally strong. They demonstrate that there is some brilliant thinking going on all over the world about how better to serve patients and support staff in hospitals. Out of a very strong field, the shortlisted entries demonstrate particularly ingenious approaches. With a renewed focus on hospital building in the UK, these finalists have a really exciting opportunity to shape how NHS hospitals function, look and feel.”

Finalists are guaranteed £10,000 – the largest monetary prize outside the Nobel awards – and are now developing a fuller proposal, to be judged in the autumn, with the overall winner announced in November in line for a £250,000 award.



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