NHS organisations have been urged to combine their planning for technology and estate investments.
The message comes in a report from the King’s Fund, the charity that works on health and social care policy, examining the relationship between the two and how they could be better integrated.
Titled Clicks and Mortar: Technology and the NHS estate, it says they should be brought together as part of wider plans for change. This would involve developing an overarching vision how they would be included in the future delivery of health and care.
“Technology and the estate should be planned in an integrated way, recognising the influence these areas have on one another,” it says.
“The speed with which technology develops can make long term planning difficult, so building flexibility into the estate is crucial.”
It says that sustainability and transformation partnerships – which are bringing health and social care together on a regional basis – and integrated care systems can provide mechanisms for making it happen. But it is important to recognise that organisations will face challenges in balancing their own priorities with those of the wider system.
The report notes that technology and estates both rely on capital funding, but the former also requires an increasing operational spend, reflecting the increasing use of cloud systems that are paid for as a service.
Both rely on a strong infrastructure, are subject to national regulations and standards and require strategic and technical skills.
Among the possibilities is that the increasing use of digital technology could lead to a smaller NHS estate, as it will enable more consultations along with patient monitoring to take place outside its buildings. But the report adds that in many cases any space freed up could be put to other uses, and emphasises that the priority in technology investments is improving patient care.
In addition, technology can support a better integrated estate. This involves the sharing of patient information between buildings and enabling organisations to manage activity across a local system.
NHS Property Services supported the research for the report – which comprised a review of relevant literature and a series of interviews with people involved in both areas – but the King’s Fund has emphasised that the findings are its own.
The report prompted a positive response from NHS Property Services, the agency that provides support for the estate.
Its chief information officer said: “Technology and the estate are both vital to delivering the NHS Long Term Plan. This report highlights the important role NHSPS can play in continuing to bring the two together to help deliver a transformative strategic vision for the future estate. “
Image: Report detail from King's Fund