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Simon Corben lays down NHS Improvement objectives

Addressing delegates at Healthcare Estates this week, Simon Corben, Director and Head of Profession, Estates and Facilities Efficiency and Productivity Division at NHS Improvement set out his core objectives for the short, medium and long-term. 


Top of the agenda for the next six months is to “land the long-term plan.” This, he says, represents a real opportunity to get some “protective capital” into the system to enable some of the critical infrastructure issues to be addressed. This, he clarified, does not just mean backlog maintenance, but the design and structure of the entire infrastructure that delivers the care pathway.


Backlog maintenance is itself on the list of immediate priorities. The backlog maintenance report has been delayed but Simon hopes it will be published before Christmas. This will feed into the long-term plan and promises to show a different way of viewing the asset and how funds are allocated to backlog maintenance. It will come as no surprise, he says, that how NHS England deals with backlog maintenance differs significantly from some of our counterparts across the globe, and adjusting that is important. 


Simon wants to see an additional drive to the disposal programme, which is not going away. “We need to understand how we refresh and replace the asset base in an effective way,” he said. “We also need to challenge some of those disposals.”


The PEP team should transfer into NHS Improvement within the next couple of months. In addition, the publication of the 2017/18 ERIC data is imminent; analysing and uploading this will be a priority. 


Next year

In the medium term, the workforce programme, standardisation and technology are the biggest issues.


The development of the workforce strategy has suffered a delay as a result of some of the incidents that have had to be dealt with this year. The pace will be stepped up on this as a priority. “It is so fundamental to the way in which we deliver our services.” 


Standardisation is a multi-faceted issue. In April, NHS Improvement launched the ‘new for old’ initiative. Simon admitted that this has not progressed as well as he had hoped, but with the allocation of funds he believes it will “fly”.  This initiative links to the standardisation agenda by isolating the good and repeatable designs that already exist and using them to bring together a few repeatable ‘products’ that can be pushed out across primary care and the community estate initially, and then into the provider estate. 


National standards are also being worked on. The cleaning and food standards have been reviewed and the food standards will launch in March. “We are really challenging the way we clean and service our catering across the hospital environment,” says Simon. Eight technical standards were also launched a few weeks ago which will now roll out across the industry.


In January, Minister of State for Health and Social Care, Steve Barclay MP joined the Property Board. He has a particular interest in sustainability and standardisation in design and wants to drive pace into the building process and simplify the approval process.


Technology-based solutions for all aspects of healthcare have been put firmly on the agenda by the new Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock. Simon hopes to build on initial conversations he has had over the last 12 months with different technology suppliers to start to maximise the benefits of technology and the data it can provide. “Let’s bring some of that data feed into a real-time process so we can really understand how the system is running. This will provide the information that we so desperately need.” 


Five years

A long-term capital programme is essential to improve capability and capacity in the sector and instil confidence. This can be set out through the long-term plan.

Coupled with that there is a need to improve on project assurance. A number of capital schemes are failing, which needs to be addressed.


There are hundreds of ‘invest to save’ schemes available offering significant return on investment and Simon wants to improve the take-up of these opportunities through education.


Improving supplier resilience is very important in the context of recent events. “We have a significant vulnerability within our supply market,” he says. “It's really important that we bring that market with us, we understand the difficulties they face and we work with them.” Managing the contracts effectively is also vital. 


Finally, a step change is necessary to transform the delivery of customer services. There’s often no pattern and different actions are not well joined-up. “There are little things we can do to really enhance the way in which we can improve our customer services - be it catering, cleaning, or wayfinding across the site.”