Published date: 17 September 2021

Lessons from Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic brought unprecedented pressure on the NHS, forcing us to adapt and work in new ways across the health service. Adrian Powell, our Development and Planning Director, recently spoke to an audience at the Westminster Health Forum policy conference on how estates management adapted during this time, and what we at NHS Property Services hope to carry over into our future work.

During Covid-19, NHS Property Services (NHSPS) used our expertise in property and facilities management to build clinical capacity, increase testing and vaccination capability, and to promote better infection control in the sites we own and manage.

As owners of around 10% of the NHS estate, we collaborated with all those involved at a local level, including the integrated care systems (ICSs) and the NHS England (NHSE) Primary Care Estates team, to transform space rapidly across our estate. For example, we saw an opportunity to reconfigure vacant space available at some of our properties, launching a bed recommissioning strategy that led to space for more than 1,500 beds being brought back online for local commissioners.

In addition to this recommissioning work, we dealt with hundreds of requests to adapt primary care facilities, creating hot sites or hubs to provide space for GPs to see patients with coronavirus symptoms, 240 vaccination sites, and 30 testing sites. This was all supported by our Covid-19 reaction taskforce and Facilities Management team, who ensured that sites were deep-cleaned and kept safe to prevent the spread of infection.

Beyond direct site management, we created a range of estate guidance for our occupiers and NHS partners, ranging from managing risk assessments, to modular building to expand capacity, to leveraging fast-moving town planning legislation.

This was all achievable thanks to new ways of working developed across NHS organisations to achieve a common goal. I’d like to see much of this continue as we emerge from the pandemic, to help create a more efficient health service that can adapt to future shocks whilst building long-term population health.

Lessons from Covid-19

New ways of working

The significant changes to the NHS estate were achieved by the incredible collaboration and drive across NHS partner organisations, working toward a common purpose to overcome hurdles and achieve what was needed. I’d like to see this continue, cutting through red tape and organisational differences to find the best estate solutions for excellent patient care.

Improving estates data

The rapid identification and repurposing of space across our portfolio were only possible due to accurate data, with clarity on what space was available, how it was being used, and who was responsible for it. When optimising the NHS estate beyond Covid-19 we need to continue working with our NHS partners to understand this, so we can invest in high-occupancy areas and repurpose vacant space.

Creating flexible spaces

Having some extra and adaptable space in our portfolio proved vital to our rapid recommissioning and repurposing programmes, so now we must consider how to extend this to longer-term flexibility. For example, designing consultation rooms that can be split into two for the running of virtual consultations, or looking to modular building solutions for rapid supply of additional capacity. Our NHS Open Space programme also offers flexibility, offering more services the opportunity to book sessional space in our buildings as and when they need it, with no lease required.

As the pandemic eases, patient needs will inevitably change. At NHSPS, we are primed and ready to help the health service adapt, optimising the estate to meet these needs in a sustainable and efficient way. Whether reconfiguring current space, optimising use of space or building new developments, we are helping to futureproof the healthcare estate for the benefit of patients and the NHS.

Supporting the NHS throughout Covid-19

Learn more about how we can support our NHS partners, from estates, to cleaning, to town planning advice and more.

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