The pay-as-you-go rental service for NHS spaces

Christopher King, Principal Strategic Asset Manager for NHS Property Services, speaks to Health Business UK on NHS Open Space's successes and hopes for the future.

This article was originally published in Health Business UK, you can read it here

NHS Open Space was launched by NHS Property Services (NHSPS) in April 2019 following a two-year pilot to make the most of unused space across the NHS. We saw that some of our spaces were not consistently occupied and wanted to ensure that services were able to use the space as efficiently as possible to support the optimisation of the NHS estate. Our solution was simple… if space is not being used to full capacity by existing NHS occupiers, we should make it more readily available for other NHS bodies and wider health and wellbeing services to rent. Not only does this make better use of the NHS estate and mean communities can access more services from one local hub, but all profits are also reinvested directly back into the NHS. This has been particularly important in the past year when funding has never been so essential for the health service.

The idea was simple, but building a new platform and supporting existing users through the transition would take some time. We gathered the details of our first 20 facilities and created an online booking system, working closely with existing users throughout a two-year pilot to create something user-focussed and intuitive. The platform allows customers to view detailed information about sites and rooms, check availability, and then book, pay, and manage their reservations. The spaces available range from clinical space and activity rooms, to meeting rooms and offices. The spaces can be hired on an hourly, sessional or daily basis, providing flexibility and choice for users, and once on site they can be sure of clean, safe and ready-to-go rooms every time, with trained staff available to help. The online booking platform gives NHSPS, services and NHS commissioners clearer data on how our spaces are being used, which helps us to proactively manage the NHS estate and make more efficient use of it. What’s great is that you don’t need to be a healthcare professional to use the spaces on offer. Anyone from a local business, personal trainer or physiotherapist can rent out spaces that they would find useful.

As we all know, the past year has been exceptionally hard on most industries. Many of us have been working from home and restricted to remaining within our local area due to government guidelines. We also knew that many healthcare providers and businesses were looking for alternative property options in the wake of the pandemic. The flexibility of allowing our spaces to be hired on an hourly or daily basis has not only helped to make much more efficient use of the estate but has also enabled health and well-being providers to offer much needed services at the heart of local communities.

These spaces have been a lifeline for some of our customers over the past year. Throughout the pandemic, we are delighted to have been able to remain open, allowing providers to safely continue offering support to patients. We have also supported the NHS in providing free spaces for Covid-19 services, including supporting the vaccination programme. We’ve seen almost 3,000 bookings relating to Covid-19 services come through our systems since December 2020.

After seeing huge success over the past two years, it is amazing to see how our scheme has developed, and I feel privileged to have been a part of this journey. What started with 20 sites in 2019 now has over 700 clinical and non-clinical rooms in 100 facilities nationwide. So far, over 1,800 users have made more than 141,000 bookings, accounting for more than 745,000 hours of patient service delivery. Our on-site teams are also proud to be a part of this scheme. Norma Lawrence, Receptionist at Birmingham Soho Surgery, has worked for the NHS for 15 years. She was one of the early adopters of our programme, supporting customers to book rooms in this new way.

She said: “Before NHS Open Space came along, I used to use Outlook calendar for booking rooms. There are a lot of customers who book the space months, even years in advance. Since we’ve offered NHS Open Space, I have noticed we get bookings from new customers too, allowing our surgery to provide more services to the local community. We have services using the spaces including flu jab, well-baby clinics, family planning, speech therapy, nutrition, district nurse, diabetic clinic, ultrasounds, phlebotomy and many more. I take great pride in my workplace and the amount of space we have available to nurses and doctors means they can effectively do their jobs and help the wider community.”

Staff like Norma are the reason our scheme has progressed so positively. Not only can our customers rent our spaces out exactly when they need it, knowing they are helping to support the NHS, they can also count on us to ensure that sites are cleaned and maintained to the highest of safety standards. As an NHS body, safety and cleanliness is of absolute priority to us. Customers can trust our teams to keep their employees and customers safe during these challenging times and always.

We are excited to continue expanding our scheme to include more sites across the nation. We are constantly exploring how we can improve our system and increase the number of sites available to customers. As the nation begins to get back to some sense of normality, we know that many healthcare providers and businesses will be looking for new working spaces that they can trust, and we want to help support as many of these providers as possible. If we all work together, we can get back on our feet, in trusted spaces, all while supporting the NHS.

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