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Optimising the public sector estate, By NHS Property Services

On 30th November 2021 Christopher King, Principal Strategic Asset Manager at NHS Property Services spoke on a panel at the Smart Asset & Estate Management Conference.
These are his insights on how to optimise the public sector estate.

Creating a more efficient public sector estate is crucial in an environment of squeezed budgets and ever-growing demand, and we need to monitor and maximise utilisation to ensure we’re focussing on the places that need support most. Tackling this for the NHS estate is a key part of my role, and I was pleased to join a panel exploring this in more depth alongside Craig Varian from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), Lara Newman from LocatED, and Phil Shepley from Iron Mountain.

In this blog I share the key topics discussed and points raised, but I am keen to continue the conversation beyond this event. If you’d like to learn more about anything raised here, please get in touch.

Finding the right message

We opened the discussion by considering the semantics around estate rationalisation versus optimisation, and the importance of communicating your work effectively to stakeholders. It’s important to keep your end user in mind and remember they are unlikely to be as familiar with property terminology than your own teams. Talk of space utilisation studies and desk ratios may fall flat, and so it is our challenge to communicate our work and its benefits to end users in a clear and accessible way. This often means going beyond the facts and figures and remembering the real impact our work can have on people.

For NHS Open Space – a focus project of mine that is introducing flexible room booking to the NHS – we have a six-month Business Change Management process before introducing the booking system to a building, so that everyone is bought in and comfortable using it. During this process we need to prove the user benefits and emphasise how our system’s design prioritises the user experience. Stakeholder management is even more challenging with an estate as large and fragmented as the NHS, and so we need to find the ‘big story’ to combine our various users and influencers whilst allowing for flexibility and personalisation.

Reimagining spaces to boost utilisation

When asked to predict the biggest changes to public sector estate in the coming years, the panel agreed that building in flexibility was key. LocatED shared that a temporarily lowered birth rate in London meant some spaces in schools were being repurposed for community use, with a focus on child and young adult mental health and wellbeing. The DWP are also creating more community-focussed spaces in their job centres, for example, and reimagining what role those buildings can play in their communities.

I echo this focus for the NHS, and a key ambition for NHS Open Space is to make our spaces more accessible to a wider range of health, wellbeing, and community services. Through this service we are gathering utilisation data at scale, giving us a more accurate picture of how the NHS estate is being used and where there are pockets of underutilised estate that other services can be welcomed into. We want to maximise usage of our buildings so that communities can access a wider range of services from their local health hub. The connection between data and flexibility has been evident during Covid-19, as we were able to rapidly identify and make available extra capacity for new and in demand Covid-19 services.

Sharing across the public sector

A key theme I took from the panel was how similar many of our challenges and opportunities were, as we create a more efficient estate across different facets of the public sector. I believe that having these open conversations and being willing to learn from and work with other organisations, is key to our success. My ambition for NHS Open Space is for it to grow across the wider NHS estate but would love to see it go further and into other areas of the public sector. ‘Space as a Service’ will be a key theme for estate optimisation in the coming years, and I am excited to work with other organisations to evolve and grow this offering.

If you have any questions about NHS Open Space, you can contact NHS Property Services here. The NHSPS will be sharing a mini-blog series about their learnings, on their website. You can read it in full here.


This article was originally published on the NHS Property Services blog. To view more insights from them visit their blog here.