Since it was established in 1948, the NHS has been offering patients the best quality care possible, in secure environments.
That means buildings must operate as safely and efficiently as possible, to ensure these high standards for care can be met. Over the past decade, many NHS assets, including hospitals, have been managed by private companies through PFI contracts. As these come to an end in the coming years, NHS organisations will need to have plans in place to manage the transition of these assets to ensure there is no disruption to services. Though challenges lie ahead, there are also major opportunities for the NHS to utilise these assets to their advantage, improving services for both patients and the staff who work there.
In the UK at least 15 million people live with a long-term condition, a figure that is expected to rise in the next 10 years. The percentage of elderly residents is also likely to increase, with one in four people in the population aged over 65 by 2050. As a result, people are using a wider range of services than ever before to manage their needs, with self-care options increasing in popularity wherever it’s possible for them to be used. At the moment, many of the services people need are run by hospitals, meaning they need regular appointments and sometimes overnight stays.
When PFI contracts end, the NHS will have increased flexibility to redistribute some hospital services back into the community, making it easier for people to access the services they need. Once NHS organisations take over contracts, these services can be deployed elsewhere in the community, benefiting patients and allowing healthcare professionals to choose alternative pathways for patients when needed. In time this will mean people can take greater control of their own health and care, working with clinicians to determine what’s right for them, rather than being designated into a particular part of the system as a result of contractual agreements.
There’s no doubt that integrating a PFI site and a wholly NHS-managed asset will be challenging. Facilities management systems will differ, meaning data may be stored in different ways and on different databases. Integrating the two will be no easy task, but it does provide fresh opportunities for the NHS. Now is the time to analyse what data is being received through facilities management systems and how it’s being used to improved services, care and innovation. As technology continues to develop, big data, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning will all have a role to play in the future delivery of both NHS assets and frontline services. For example, machine learning has the power to help monitor and moderate the temperature within an operating theatre, to ensure it is running in the safest and most efficient way possible. Meanwhile data can be used to monitor the safety of a building, enabling government authorities to step in when needed.
After the Grenfell disaster in 2017 shook the housing sector, the government introduced a new building safety bill. Before the PFI contracts expire, it will be vital for NHS managers to start considering what lessons can be learned from these events. When NHS trusts take ownership of the current systems, the data will need to be carefully utilised not only to support the advancement of new technology, but also to ensure that any new building safety regulations can be taken into account. This is likely to include the golden thread of information, an accurate, up-to-date record of all data required to maintain and operate a built asset.
The NHS’ primary goal is to provide the best healthcare it can to the public. Leaders should take this opportunity for change to standardise procedures and maintenance of assets, so that day-today operations can continue to run smoothly, and they can maximise the potential future benefits.