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JB: “How flexible have local authorities been in terms of adapting existing planning guidance and procedures to allow ultra-fast construction of temporary healthcare facilities?” AP: “Modular buildings give a certain amount of flexibility, which has been recognised by the Government through the provision of COVID-related relaxations in town planning. The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government has issued the planning guidance for local authorities to allow flexibility in use of property to respond to the pandemic, including for modular buildings. “This flexibility has allowed for temporary emergency development to be undertaken by a local authority or health service body, enabling the creation of temporary buildings to address COVID-19 without the need to submit a planning application. These relaxations have made it easier for people to use modular or temporary buildings where required, creating a streamlined response to this crisis throughout NHS facilities, and ensuring that the required space for all patients has been made available.

Relaxing of measures

“The Government is continuing to issue relaxations to facilitate the provision of health services, but also to restart the economy. There are a number of planning relaxations that aren’t necessarily directly related to healthcare, but still would be helpful for a property company like us with 3,000 properties that we need to manage, and we are therefore proactively tracking and reporting on Government announcements and subsequent changes to town planning policy. There could be ways that we could operate our portfolio that would bring some advantage to our NHS partners – for example relaxing 'change-of-use' applications when we are preparing vacant sites for sale.”

JB: “What wider lessons do you think NHSE / NHSI and NHSPS might learn about the optimal utilisation of the NHS estate in the wake of COVID-19?” AP: “COVID-19 has made our teams increasingly aware of the importance of understanding the space that we have available, and who is occupying it. Ensuring that space is being used in the most efficient way can enhance the healthcare services for members of the community around these spaces. While none of us could have predicted this pandemic, what it has shown is that ensuring that space is being used efficiently is instrumental to the NHS’s running – from building a clear picture of how the estate is being used, to securing funding for improvements, to

implementing solutions. Ensuring we have an up-to-date and detailed record of our estate usage will be of even higher

32 Health Estate Journal September 2020

One of many COVID-19 ‘drive-thru’ testing centres to have been set up in recent months.

importance as we hope to move forward from this crisis, and we are proactively working with our customers to gather this information.”

JB: “How difficult – looking ahead – is it to plan medium to longer-term strategy for primary care building provision given that the pandemic has shown that remote GP consultation does ‘work’ for some patients, but that, equally, there will still always be a need for face-to-face appointments, both for practical purposes – for instance for minor procedures, and so the vital GP/patient relationship is maintained?” AP: “COVID-19 presents a significant opportunity to review and alter clinical service strategies and models – with one element being whether GPs continue to do most of their patient consultations by video, or revert to face-to-face consultations. This is important, as it will have an impact on current properties, how they operate, and how they are configured, as well as on new or redeveloped properties planned for the next several years.

“It is our impression that while video consultations will make up a significant proportion of GP and hospital appointments moving forward, they won’t by any means fully replace face-to-face appointments. We will be working closely with our NHS partners to better understand patient and staff requirements that will shape clinical strategy, which will then unlock guidance for subsequent estate strategies. As we continue developing our understanding for how the space we currently occupy is being used, we can determine the effect it has on design, specifications, and Clinical Commissioning Groups, to ensure the best care for patients within the community.

“Because of this, we must be very

flexible in terms of the design proposals that we are bringing forward to local planning authorities. We must maintain momentum for the development programme, while also ensuring that it is flexible enough to meet changing clinical service requirements.”


Adrian Powell

Adrian Powell leads the in-house multidisciplinary Property Development and Town Planning teams at NHS Property Services (NHSPS). These teams work to deliver quality new healthcare environments, realise latent potential value, and release land for new homes from the NHSPS estate. Adrian Powell has built a reputation over 30 years in real estate capital markets, development, asset management, and occupier services, delivering several of the largest urban regeneration and retail projects.

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