More ‘joined-up’ technology would aid EFM efficiency, roundtable hears

NHS Estates teams are increasingly turning to digital solutions to help them run and manage their buildings and facilities efficiently, but often systems are not ‘joined up’, delegates at a roundtable held by business enterprise Wi-Fi solution specialist, SPARK TSL, to discuss digital enablement within healthcare estates heard.

A key theme to emerge from the event – where senior NHS estates and facilities leaders from multiple Trusts and Integrated Care Systems came together – was that with EFM teams tasked with a diverse range of responsibilities – from managing car parks, to sustainability challenges, and from supporting patient flow to delivering critical projects, such personnel need technology that ‘can help them deliver, collaborate, and join together disparate activities’.

SPARK TSL said: “Managing NHS estates is not just about bricks and mortar, but also about patients, flow, clinical needs, and supporting multi-site, complex environments with a multitude of stakeholders. Both capital and human resources are limited to do all of this.

Robert Stewart, Commercial manager for Estates and Facilities at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, described car parks as an example of where the use of uniform technology across multiple sites can improve efficiency. He said: “In Manchester organisational mergers over several years have led to different car park systems on each main site, and many different car park systems on some of our smaller sites. Different processes can’t be good for the patient, who comes and wants to pay in a certain way.”

SPARK TSL says this example was representative of some of the wider challenges voiced by roundtable participants, who managed technologies and initiatives that did not always interconnect, not only across different NHS organisations, but sometimes within individual Trusts.

Professor Graham Evans, Executive Chief Digital and Information Officer at the NHS North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care Board, who is also taking on responsibility for estates and facilities strategy across his region, said ‘new thinking’ was needed. “For the health and care system to survive,” he told attendees, “we need to transform, and transform not by doing the same things better, but by doing better things.”

Delivered well, technology could create significant efficiencies, but the adoption of some large IT systems had still left problems in seemingly straightforward areas – for example allowing patients to order appropriate meals. Roundtable participants called for greater sharing of best practice, and more joined-up thinking to deliver better results.

“We are all reinventing the wheel, and there’s a lot of effort going into that,” said David Bailey, Group Property Systems manager at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust.

“I’m not suggesting we should all be using one system at all, but it’s the interoperability of those systems, and making sure that the data can be shared easily, that’s key, and it's got to be about people and how they use the system first.”

Rachael Westerman, assistant director of Facilities at Ashford and St. Peter's Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said ‘competition between Trusts, rather than collaboration’ remained a frustration. CAFM, or computer aided facility management systems, were being built by Trusts in isolation at significant expense, for example. Highly positive about the potential of technology to speed up and enhance processes, she said: “We’re all creating our own CAFM systems. The amount of money that’s being poured into that, the time it’s taking to do it, the delay to actually getting the software to work, and do what we want it to do – it just seems ridiculous.”

James Morriss, director of Business Development for SPARK TSL (pictured), reflected positively on the discussions, but noted that with so many disconnected programmes, in his experience of providing technologies to NHS organisations, often ‘assets don’t get sweated’.

“It might be bought for a specific purpose and a specific group,” he said. “Even if there are broader use cases for things that are purchased, they aren’t always used fully.”

This was, however, starting to change, he said. He mentioned a recent conversation with a Trust exploring how it uses Wi-Fi infrastructure for video calling between patients and consultants, in order to prevent two-hour round trips for clinicians across different sites.

The opportunity was to now embrace the different thinking being proposed during the roundtable discussion, and – as delegates urged – ‘to transcend collaboration not just between estates colleagues, but between different NHS stakeholders, to make most of the facilities available’.



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