Maximising opportunity with NHS Open Space

Source: NHE Jan/Feb 2019

NHS Open Space is an innovative new bookable NHS scheme centred on flexibility and getting the most value out of the NHS’s estates. With the project due to open in Spring 2019, Christopher King, NHS Property Services' (NHSPS) senior strategic asset manager who leads the Open Space programme, tells more.

The future of the NHS has once again taken national centre-stage with the long-term plan published earlier this month.  A key theme is the utilisation of technology to improve patient care and future-proof the NHS. The question is how the NHS estate can adapt not just to deliver the long-term plan, but other challenges such as the provision of additional community services to support patients once discharged, and alleviate the increasing pressures on acute care.

Since 2016, NHS Property Services has been developing a hybrid estate and technology solution to “sessional space” – clinical and non-clinical rooms available to be booked on an hourly, sessional, or daily basis. This flexible space is vital in providing services with cost-effective access to local communities.

While the concept of flexible space within the NHS is not new, there is no single fit-for-purpose solution that can be adopted across the system.  If you have a service that needs clinical space for three mornings a week in Nottingham, you should be able to access a single, intuitive booking platform that will provide you with all available NHS clinical space in that area.  It should provide you with full control to search, reserve, and manage all of your bookings.

NHSPS has developed a new bookable space model for the NHS: NHS Open Space, which is due to launch Spring 2019. This embraces the use of innovative technology and best-practice onsite management to provide services with a greater choice of flexible accommodation in the heart of our local communities. Its core aims are to:

  1. Provide a user-focused, easy-to-use booking system, enabling the alignment of property provision with service contracts;
  2. Be a catalyst for better estate management and drive utilisation through proactive management;
  3. Clear and transparent pricing for users, and usage data for effective management for landlords and CCGs;
  4. Substantial, scalable potential within the wider NHS and public-sector estate.

The programme has conducted a pilot across 19 NHSPS properties since Oct 2017, designed to inform the development of NHS Open Space. To date, there have been over 50,000 bookings, accounting for 250,000 hours of service delivery for patients. This demonstrates the complexity of flexible space – it is a high volume, management-intensive yet vital space offering for service provision. The mismanagement of flexible space restricts services from accessing space, creating a financial leakage from the system as services seek alternative accommodation from the private sector.

NHS Open Space will provide approved users with a new bespoke, user-focused system, and access to a greater choice of clinical and non-clinical rooms. Emphasis is on a ‘minimum click journey’ – enabling users to complete, make, or edit a booking, update their account, or download a report quickly. 

Complimenting this will be a new best-practice onsite experience that seeks to standardise room types and specifications.  This will allow a multitude of services to access the space and ensure quality and consistency throughout the estate.

Pricing will be set at an all-in hourly chargeable rate, provided to users at time of booking to ensure openness and transparency.  Payment is taken upfront as part of the booking process, initially by credit or debit card. Regular bookings can still be made on a recurring basis with payment made on a pay-as-you-go basis and debited from a previously agreed card at the start of each month.

A key benefit of NHS Open Space is the ability to effectively manage and drive utilisation within the portfolio.  The pilot identified the sessional space at the 19 properties were poorly utilised, with booking rates at c.40%. Actual usage was even lower. NHS Open Space enables us to understand usage by portfolio, property, and room level. This allows us to increase utilisation through the effective management of space and enable the consolidation of properties to provide a leaner, better managed estate.

While the provision of space for NHS-commissioned services is at the heart, NHS Open Space will drive additional income through approved third-party users. These users will be attracted by the prestige of operating from an NHS building, the variety of rooms, competitive pricing, and excellent onsite service provided by NHS Open Space.

The revenue created can then be reinvested back into the NHS.   Through technology and automation, we can reach these services via cost-effective digital channels and invite them to register for, book, manage, and pay for their space online.

As a service provider and advisor to the NHS, NHS Open Space can provide service-level reporting on bookings vs usage. This provides NHS organisations with clear service usage data, allowing them to streamline NHS Open Space usage and reduce costs.

The rapid growth of flexible space operators in various markets – from Airbnb to WeWork – demonstrate the changing nature of our work and recreational requirements.  Healthcare and public sector are at the beginning of a similar awakening.


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