Aug 17, 2018 Last Updated 8:05 AM, Aug 13, 2018

Proactive planning

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The future of the NHS has been surrounded by a great deal of negativity in recent years. It’s a service we all cherish, yet every week we are met with a new headline and shocking statistics that expose more trusts entering special measures, prolonged waiting times for patients and a lack of funding for growing health concerns, says Keith Austin, CEO at EMS Healthcare.

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The solution, we’re told, is more money. But while money makes an enormous difference and in a perfect world it would be simple to have the funds increased at the same rate as demand for healthcare services, in reality the likelihood of the NHS being granted what it needs is low. Even Philip Hammond’s recent announcement of an extra £2.8bn over the next three years for NHS services – whilst a welcome injection of funds – fell miles short of the £4bn deemed necessary by experts.

Finding another solution

What else – if not money – will help this struggling sector survive? There is no straightforward answer, as is demonstrated by the sustainability and transformation partnerships (STPs) established in a bid to cater healthcare services to local needs. However, there is one key step that applies to every trust across the country, and it is something that can be implemented by every professional in the sector; proactive planning. Not only in terms of budget and staffing, but also through innovative solutions that can be put in place ahead of a crisis to avert from suffering under pressure.

Amongst the many different solutions designed to tackle the numerous challenges faced by the healthcare sector lie mobile healthcare units, and it’s an option more trusts are turning to for the smooth delivery of patient care when disruption in facilities management is suspected. More flexible than a static modular build, yet with the capacity and capabilities to see up to 250 patients per week in some cases, mobile medical units are proving to be an effective solution for proactive planning.

Why proactive?

The NHS has long worked in a reactive manner, but with the ageing population and more patients at risk of chronic health conditions, capacity strains no longer come as a surprise, which means unavoidable problems can be identified early. Although not everything can be planned for or expected, there are many aspects of healthcare that we can predict.

For hospital estates and facilities teams, this couldn’t be more true. NHS England owns an estate floor area that is enough to cover the City of London 10 times, and a recent report by Sir Robert Naylor for the Secretary of State for Health found that 18% of NHS provider estates predate the formation of the NHS, whilst 43% were built over 30 years ago. We don’t need an expert to tell us that the facilities in use are too often outdated and unsuitable for the 21st century, meaning they are unable to keep up with the grave changes in demand.

As the pressure mounts for the NHS to act more commercially, many trusts are realising the benefits of embracing a proactive approach to keep on top of the increases in demand long before waiting list targets are missed. For example, whilst planning for winter is not a new concept – this time of year goes hand-in-hand with increased hospital admissions – chronic illnesses are now also posing an equal challenge as the prevalence increases with the ageing population. By closely monitoring these conditions, we gain a clearer vision of how the next 12 months may play out.

In action

The frequency of eye disease seen across the UK is steadily growing in prevalence; cases of glaucoma will have risen by over 110% between 2010 and 2020. With this insight, Frimley Park Hospital, which is widely known for its outstanding ophthalmology department, recognised that waiting list backlogs and crowded hospital environments were likely to occur.

To deal with heightened demand, Frimley sought a cutting-edge solution that could be easily installed to enable it to continue its high-level of patient care. It was at this point that we provided Frimley with our Liberty unit, made up of two interconnecting 40ft medical trailers that include all the facilities expected of a modern clinic. As a result, an additional 12,500 clinic slots were created per year, eliminating the need for evening and weekend clinics, whilst patient waiting times were reduced from one hour, 21 minutes within the hospital to just 32 minutes on board the mobile medical unit.

Modernising facilities

It is not just the service capacities that need planning for. In many cases, the facilities that enable services to go-ahead are in urgent need of refurbishment, something Government has recognised with a dedication of £3.5bn between now and 2020 to undertake repairs to ageing estates and new equipment. However, until those restorations are complete, trusts will still need to plan for disruption. Our latest mobile medical unit, Quest+ Decontamination, has been developed in response to this, following a stream of enquiries from clinicians requiring a temporary solution for the decontamination of endoscopes.

The unit is the first of its kind, solving a major gap in the endoscopy market that enables trusts to continue reprocessing their endoscopes in-house, either when their own facilities are at full capacity, or when equipment has reached the end of its eight to 10-year lifecycle and is in need of refurbishment. Demand for gastrointestinal endoscopy is set to exceed 2.4 million procedures per annum by 2019/2020, up 44% since 2013/14, so having solutions like this in place will be crucial to ensuring uncompromised patient care throughout.

Shared responsibility

Often there can be barriers that are preventing a trust from delivering the service it strives towards, but talking about them openly can help – it is only through those at the forefront of the services speaking out that we were able to develop Quest+ Decontamination. There are hundreds of companies out there developing groundbreaking solutions designed to support the healthcare sector, and by communicating with them and other trusts, hospitals can often find a resolution to overcome these obstacles.

The delivery of excellent care is not only down to the patient-facing clinicians and nurses, or those with access to the financials – we all have a part to play. Estates and facilities teams play an imperative role in this, and planning proactively is a positive step that can be taken to manage the progressively high capacities being faced by hospitals.

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