The key to NHS savings and safety

24 Nov 2015

Policy area: Healthcare

On the heels of a government announcement on healthcare funding and on the eve of the Corporate Spending Review, Phoebe Rountree explains how the real estate industry can help balance the NHS budget and improve care.

The day before the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) and Autumn Statement, and the Chancellor is in full political swing. Today he announced billions of pounds of instant funding for NHS frontline services, in an acknowledgement of the rapidly and radically changing healthcare needs our country will face in the coming decades.

Following stark warnings of financial pressure from NHS Chief Executive Simon Stevens, tomorrow's CSR will promise an urgent injection of £3.8bn into frontline NHS services, thereby "frontloading" the £8bn promised by the Prime Minister in the election campaign. Of course, funding promised by the CSR only covers the five year length of this parliament. With many commentators arguing that the Conservative Party has the next election – and even possibly the one after – sewn up, the Chancellor could have many years’ more funding to pull out of his hat yet.

The UK needs new healthcare premises

In just 25 years' time, there will be 90% more people aged over 75 in the UK than there are currently. At this morning's launch of our new healthcare research, Quality Buildings, Quality Care, BPF Chief Executive Melanie Leech told guests that, although advances in healthcare technology are ensuring that we can all gladly expect to live longer, unfortunately we can also expect to spend 15 years of our longer lives in poor health.

More worryingly, an ageing population is currently set to be served by an ageing estate, with two thirds of the NHS estate built more than 20 years ago – and a full 15% built prior to 1948. As our report shows, services provided from new healthcare premises have been three to four times more likely to be rated “outstanding” by the Care Quality Commission than services provided from older premises, so renewing the healthcare estate in order to prepare for this mammoth demand will be essential.

The real estate industry is ready to pay for them

Lucky for the Chancellor, there is £6bn of industry capital just itching to pour into developing the kind of premises that will support our changing healthcare needs in the years ahead.

The investment of private providers could help the NHS make significant savings whilst reducing mortality rates and patient harms. Not only providing the financing so government doesn't have to, private investment in modernising healthcare premises could save further money by both reducing staff sick days and improving the quality of care, therefore enabling patients to be released earlier.

So what is government waiting for?

The knowledgeable host of our report launch, Oliver Colvile MP, a former regeneration consultant who sits on numerous parliamentary healthcare groups, asserted this morning that what differentiates this government's approach to the NHS from the approaches of previous governments is its commitment to “controlling expenditure” and therefore focusing on “enabling and commissioning services”.

Oliver assured the room that government “will need to work closely with you, the property industry” in order to deliver the facilities needed for long-term care needs. While we wholeheartedly agree and welcome this willing, we still wait to see this need recognised in long-term government policy.

So as the Chancellor battles with this budget and however many more spending decisions that lie on his horizon, let him find comfort in the research we launched today. Despite the urgent, long-term, and substantial financial demands that the NHS faces, there is £6bn waiting to be unlocked and create a safer and more cost-efficient NHS estate for the future. Why not turn the key?