Last year, the Government promised an extra £2.7 billion to rebuild 6 NHS hospitals as the first wave of investment in its Health Infrastructure Plan (HIP), along with £100million seed funding for up to 34 hospitals to be built or refurbished.
That was before the impact of Covid-19 so there is some debate now on whether that money will still be available given the resulting high levels of public borrowing. One thing we can say with certainty though is that the health service needs to remember the lessons learnt using the pandemic crisis and adopt the innovation in procurement and building technology that saw hospital wings delivered in a matter of a few weeks.
The HIP announcement sounds like a significant investment in NHS estates, but it is relatively small in the context of the needs of the wider NHS estate. Three years ago, in a report on NHS property and estates for the Secretary of State for Health, Sir Robert Naylor estimated that Sustainability Transformation Plans would require around £10 billion of capital with a conservative estimate of backlog maintenance of £5 billion.
The NHS faces the challenge of building modern fit for purpose healthcare facilities that deliver the optimum care environment and are future-proofed to cope with the rapid evolution of new treatment regimens and therapies. To succeed, it will require new thinking and innovative solutions that challenge the traditional approaches to building healthcare facilities.
The Government recognises the need for change and the Minister for Care, Caroline Dinenage, confirmed their commitment, recognising the potential of offsite construction: “Our building programme will take advantage of innovative design and construction models and we are encouraging the NHS to take advantage of a range of modern construction approaches, including offsite manufacturing and standardisation.”
Offsite construction brings a faster, cheaper, greener approach that can deliver modern healthcare facilities that are indistinguishable from traditional built infrastructure. Buildings are tailored to meet specific requirements and commissioned within months rather than years, potentially saving up to 50% on construction costs.
Offsite manufacturing dramatically reduces carbon within a building using efficient, repeatable designs and precision manufacturing. Onsite waste accounts for 15% of the embodied energy of a building and research shows that offsite manufacture can reduce this by up to 50%.
We’ll have to wait and see if the Government can still deliver on its £2.7 billion promise, but whatever the level of investment, the programme is unlikely to succeed without the innovation that offsite building technology can deliver.