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Staying agile and flexible in the face of new challenges

In this ‘question and answer’-style article, Adrian Powell, head of Property Development at NHS Property Services, discusses future NHSPS and wider NHS estates optimisation strategy ‘post-COVID-19’ with HEJ editor, Jonathan Baillie.

Jonathan Baillie (JB): “What have been some of the biggest impacts and challenges for NHSPS in managing its various properties during the COVID-19 crisis?”

Adrian Powell (AP): “This is not unique to NHSPS, but, as you can imagine, among the challenges we’ve faced has been the lack of face-to-face contact and the ability to be mobile and visit sites. This is particularly true for properties that needed extra capacity during the crisis, or facilities planned for renovation/expansion and needing local planning authorities involved. It was a challenge at first, but I feel we’ve found ways to overcome this, and have continued to support our customers and their needs. By way of example, where we and local planning authorities were unable to meet, both parties have been able to adapt to meetings online, and have run digital public consultations.

“As previously mentioned, this is not a challenge unique to our organisation. Indeed, our customers and stakeholders face the same challenges. The key has been to maintain momentum and continue on with ‘business as usual’ where possible. Digital solutions have helped to support us through the COVID-19 pandemic. Our ability to transition into remote working has been a huge advantage, enabling us to continue to deliver to a high standard to support the NHS during this time, while ensuring that patients can still access the care they need – whether that’s now, or in the future. Allied to the innovations in digital communications is the willingness from all of us to flexibly engage with the technology. There’s been a real cultural shift in how we work.

Ensuring GP access

“One of the other challenges NHSPS has faced has been ensuring that people across England could access their GP or healthcare facility for non-COVID-related issues. Sadly, patients still break their legs, have heart attacks, and other ailments. They require their NHS to be able to treat them regardless of a pandemic. A

Plans for various modular buildings.

collaborative approach with NHS England and colleagues throughout the country was essential in order for us to be flexible and agile in the way the estate delivers these services, particularly for those self- isolating or with long-term illnesses. Our work with NHS England has been key to providing use of vacant space and extended facilities management services where required, addressing 350 additional space requests from our customers during this time.”

JB: “How quickly did you have to put together your NHSPS COVID-19 Modular Building Guide, and how much of a part to play have rapidly constructed/ erected modular buildings actually had during the COVID-19 crisis?” AP: “We proactively developed the NHSPS Covid-19 Modular Building Guidance Document in March, with it being issued in April, near the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. As soon as it became apparent that there was going to be a capacity issue, and it was likely we would have to mobilise to create additional capacity, we wanted to develop guidance and solutions for our

customers. To do this, we had to look at what space we already had available for conversion, and what we had to build new; we developed a dedicated workstream for this.

“After recommissioning and/or reconfiguring vacant or underused space across our estate, the next challenge was how we could add structures quickly – quicker than the traditional construction delivery route. Modular buildings were an obvious choice, due to their quicker lead- in time and delivery, and, as it turned out, the relaxation in town planning requirements alongside the extension of permitted development rights to include them.

Real-life application examples “We issued the first version of the modular guidance note in April, and then began to expand it as we assessed our portfolio in London to provide real-life application examples for our customers. This revised version was able to demonstrate how modular buildings could accommodate more patients, at what density, and any layout or configuration issues this would give rise

September 2020 Health Estate Journal 29

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