Christine Winstanley at Eric Wright Health and Care, part of the Eric Wright Group, talks with ABC+D Magazine about the potential in existing public sector estate and the scope it offers for re-purposing existing buildings as community hubs and healthcare facilities…
Austerity cuts have brought many challenges for both the NHS and local authorities as they struggle to address growing demand for services with reduced financial resources.
One of the key strategies that progressive CCG’s (Clinical Commissioning Groups) and local authorities are using to address these challenges is a creative approach to estate management, aligned to the Government’s One Public Estate strategy and the Five Year Forward View.
NHS bodies and local authorities in England hold surplus assets – leveraging these assets can enable rationalisation of operational costs through consolidation of services and the injection of sale capital can reduce ongoing revenue commitments to the public sector system.
However, the answer to maximising the value of property assets and supporting service transformation is not always to sell off surplus properties; sometimes a strategic approach to public sector estate is through the repurposing of vacant buildings or the remodelling of operational facilities.
It is an approach that can address fiscal squeeze and reduced staffing levels as the public sector is re-organised and struggles to maintain quality and levels of service. This approach can help the public sector to develop a flexible, fit-for-purpose estate which responds to shared service requirements while supporting sustainability and transformation in a local area.
The public sector is mindful that municipal and health buildings, once sold off for re-development, will no longer provide a community resource. This is almost certainly the case if they are sold for commercial redevelopment, which can significantly change a local community and prove upsetting for local residents.
This was certainly the case in Ashton-in-Makerfield when Wigan Council declared the former town hall surplus. Through the strategic estates group, the old town hall site was identified as a key location for the community to access services. A single building solution created the opportunity to bring together a number of GPs, community health and public services while reducing the overall number of properties owned by the public sector.
One Partnership, a public private collaboration between Eric Wright Group, Community Health Partnerships (CHP) and Wigan Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) provided an opportunity to redevelop the building as a community health hub.
The first step in a project of this kind is to understand how the property or location can support the local community and provide a high standard of facilities aligned to the local public sectors’ goals and priorities.
In the case of Ashton town hall, it was clear that the location could provide an opportunity to develop a new centre and integrate services currently delivered by Ashton Clinic and the Medicentre on a single site. The building’s central location and accessibility for local residents was the starting point for the design of an internal layout that will offer a one-stop-shop for community healthcare services.
Similar asset optimisation projects can help to improve costs and deliver a best value approach for a range of publicly-owned property assets, including existing healthcare facilities, from hospitals to local clinics and municipal buildings.
To achieve the best results, early engagement with a specialist that can offer proven healthcare expertise is essential. Collaboration between public and private sector partners is a critical success factor and may incorporate requirements for capacity modelling, strategic planning, building utilisation, asset disposal and whole system planning advice.
In the development stage, private sector partners can assist with funding, design development, risk and project management. Ideally, a single private sector partner should take responsibility for supply chain management during the delivery phase and any ongoing capacity modelling, asset rationalisation or estates strategy thereafter to ensure continuity of strategy and delivery based on established knowledge and relationships.
The political and economic climate may have created challenges for the public sector but it has also given rise to opportunities to look at how things can be done differently.
Systems and services can be linked up to create a more integrated approach to delivery. Working with private sector partners to maximise property assets is just such an opportunity.
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