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NHS and the value of FM

12 February 2015

Changes to the NHS, whenever suggested (never mind implemented), tend to polarise opinion. 

Those introduced by this coalition government three years ago have proved no exception, and you can be sure that they’ll be placed front and centre – together with the future of the NHS in general –when the political debate ahead of the coming election gets into full gear.

NHS Property Services came into being as a relatively unheralded part of the contentious 2012 Health and Social Care Act. You can read about how the company has since been seeking to establish performance benchmarks across its vast portfolio. 

Essentially, it’s the first time such a disparate estate has been subjected to what in other environments would be a logical assessment of FM need (the creation of benchmarks for comparison, the subsequent evaluation of performance, and the dialogue with clients about the balance of services and facilities required in future years).

Achieving this looks even more daunting when you factor in the sheer scale of the operation; upwards of 4,000 properties across England and a myriad service contracts procured in a myriad different ways. Only by bringing NHS Property Services into existence has this massive centralised performance analysis operation become possible, and it has uncovered compelling potential for savings. Over the coming months it will be interesting to watch as the balance of outsourced to in-house provision shifts markedly in favour of the latter, and as the country’s major FM service providers realise the extent to which their relationships with this particular client have to change irrevocably.

NHS Property Services’ Dennis Markey puts talk of potential savings to the fore, reckoning that costs will fall in many cases as variations in performance and contract price are evened out. That’s a reasonable position to hold. And as an incentive to management, the company can equate any savings found with the increased number of operations the NHS can afford to carry out as a result.

But what we must surely all hope is that this significant shift in the way FM is procured and managed within this part of the NHS is not presented to the general public simply as a case of massive savings gained following historically poor management and procurement practice.

That these management issues are now being addressed by Dennis Markey’s team is important to the story. But in terms of how we’d all like the bigger picture of FM presented, the story has two other components of far more importance: 1) the value to the NHS of its FM staff, with a better defined career path for its facilities workers; and 2) the creation of a joined-up FM department, core to the estates operation, that takes an equal and indeed lead role in defining future NHS facilities priorities.

In the election bubble, any savings might be given both a positive (costs slashed!) or negative (avoidable costs identified!) spin – but a spotlight on either or both of those latter components could do wonders for the wider ‘value of FM’ debate.

Martin Read is managing editor at FM World