Something that has always frustrated LEGO fans is how infrequently a hospital is available to buy. Police Stations and Fire Stations are released frequently, but the other emergency service never gets the same level of LEGO love. LEGO Friends 41318 Heartlake Hospital, which is easily converted into a minifigure based treatment locale, is only the fourth hospital to be part of the LEGO System portfolio.
6380 Emergency Treatment Center – 1987
Minifigures had to wait eight years before finally having a place to get their injuries treated. 1987 brought the first hospital set in the form of 6380 Emergency Treatment Center and it was a supremely simple, but also effective, affair. This set distilled a hospital down to its essence – a surgical ward, nurse’s station and room for convalescing. Throw in the included ambulance for transporting victims and everything needed for satisfying emergency services play was present in a single box. Even today it has a certain simple and charming appeal to it. A product of its time, 6380 is built right onto its green baseplate meaning that surgery is conducted on a suspiciously grass looking carpet.
As a child I quickly came to believe my collection contained a treasure for including this offering. As the years progressed I became the envy of my LEGO loving friends due to the inclusion of a hospital in my Town layout. It remains the only Town theme hospital ever released, fans would have to wait nearly two decades for another opportunity.
7982 Hospital – 2006
As the LEGO Group clawed its way back from near bankruptcy in the mid 2000s, designers went back to the company’s roots for inspiration. Mining the classic Town sets of the late 1980s and early 1990s resulted in the reintroduction of offerings that had been absent for years including harbours, divers and of course hospitals. 7982 came out of nowhere and struggles as a set mostly due to its baseplate.
The last of the raised baseplates was used in the mid 2000s. On some sets, like 7627 Temple of the Crystal Skull from the Indiana Jones theme, it worked quite well but as the foundation for a CITY structure, success was elusive. It doesn’t bring a lot of logic to a hospital – from a practical standpoint, a building where one is routinely going to bring in folks on stretchers should not be accessible only via a steep vehicle ramp and stairs. On top of this, due to the lack of support beneath, the hospital building can never be pushed down tight enough to the studs below and tends to wobble. I have had it fall over due to jostling as I removed it from a shelf more times than I can count.
Those failures aside, the interior is strikingly familiar, consisting of the same three rooms as the original offering though heavily modernised with new parts, more detail and a vertical construction. For surgery though I would still stick with the old place across town from the 1980s though, thee surgical tools here would be more at home in a house of horrors.
4429 Helicopter Rescue – 2012
Perhaps sales of 7982 were decent because the LEGO Group seemed to almost be putting hospitals on a regular rotation when 4429 came out in 2012. When 7892 had come out 6 years earlier designers were still figuring out what modern LEGO sets looked like. By 2012 there was a lot more precedent and as a result the structure looks far more familiar than the previous two incarnations to our modern eye. Billed not as a full hospital, but more of an emergency transfer station, the three room formula was reduced down to just two; the surgical ward got the cut.
With both a full helicopter and ambulance taking up a sizeable percentage of the sets parts it is no wonder that the size of the medical structure was reduced. This configuration yields clues as to the challenge LEGO hospitals have had to overcome when compared to their police and fire related shelf mates.
The Challenge for Hospitals
I believe that the challenge for hospitals is that they are the place you go after the action. Fire and police sets are responding to a crisis. There is a fire to put out or a bad guy to capture, lots of action to be had and trouble to resolve. Hospitals are the sad place one goes afterwards for what is arguably still a form of action (ask a nurse), but of a decidedly less flashy kind. Even as one who took pride in owning a hospital set as a child, I must admit it got very little use in comparison to my police station or even more so my Space or Pirates sets. The predominance of the helicopter and ambulance, vehicles which would be at the scene along with police and fire sets in the last CITY hospital show how the LEGO Group are working to tackle this.
41318 Heartlake Hospital – 2017
The final entry on this list, 41318 Heartlake Hospital, has only just been released by the LEGO Group. It shows how the challenges mentioned above can be resolved, with the maternity ward a great example of focusing on the more positive aspects of healthcare rather than only going for the emergency response side. This was probably only possible in the Friends theme, so fans should be grateful that there are now two real-world based themes to choose from. For an in-depth analysis of the set you can read the Brick Fanatics review or to find out how to convert the set to a minifigure friendly version you can read 41318 Heartlake City Hospital conversion.