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Alan Wilson is  managing director of ModuleCo Healthcare in this feature he looks a taking on the NHS backlog in operations and how modular facilities can help this.

Without question, the COVID-19 pandemic has placed significant strain on our NHS, with the BBC reporting that an estimated 4.7million people are now awaiting surgical procedures. In recent weeks, the true ramifications of operations being cancelled due to COVID-19 have come to the forefront of the news agenda. Patient waiting times are expected to surpass two years for vital procedures and many experts claiming that clearing the backlog could take up to five years.

These rising delays, combined with an already limited capacity, means the NHS needs to take swift and serious action to increase facilities to meet national demand. That’s where modular construction could be pivotal in providing these much-needed healthcare buildings.

These innovative buildings, available on fixed-term contracts, can help NHS Trusts to continue delivering their vital work in secure, bespoke environments and can be added onto existing hospital estates to address capacity challenges immediately.

Recognising NHS needs and employing key collaborations

According to the most recent NHS England data, the number of people waiting more than 52 weeks to begin treatment was 387,885 in February. This is the worst figure since December 2007, confirming the impact COVID-19 has had on routine healthcare procedures.

While the backlog of operations alone is cause for concern, we must also note that the NHS has been tasked with the most ambitious vaccine roll out in the history of our time. Moreover, COVID-19 is still present in our hospitals, causing further strain.

Recognising the true extent of the problem, NHS Trusts have already begun looking for alternative ways to clear the backlog and future proof themselves for evolving demands. Many of them have turned to private healthcare companies for aid, however, there are other ways that the private sector can help.

Using revenue budgets effectively

Unquestionably, COVID-19 has caused a raft of unexpected costs for the NHS, meaning that budget constraints prevail. However, steps have been taken to make revenue budgets available to help the NHS in its COVID-19 recovery, but funds will need to be stretched and spent cautiously, as there’s no definite assurance as to how long current capacity issues will last.

Modular facilities are well-suited to being paid for via revenue budgets, especially where available on short-term agreements, such as hire or managed service options. These facilities are a quick, cost-effective and scalable solution that can help the NHS maintain productivity during these difficult times, while simultaneously increasing services and revenue streams.

Offsite construction providers can help both in the interim and as a longer-term option to deliver on both fronts. Investment into new, high-specification theatres and other healthcare facilities is a great way for NHS Trusts to set themselves up for handling mounting pressures, without the need for significant payment upfront.

Benefits of hiring modular facilities

Traditional construction often comes with high costs and lengthy timeframes, meaning building new NHS facilities via this method is unlikely to be the right solution at this time. The shorter-term challenges our NHS currently face, with these lengthy waiting times likely to take between three and five years to clear completely, also makes modular an attractive option. With waiting times alleviated in three to five years, short-term solutions that can be turned around quickly are key.

Offsite construction is a viable short-term solution that is adaptable to changing priorities and demand. Modular facilities can unlock many benefits for both public and private sector companies, offering a quick and cost-effective way to increase capacity where and when it is most needed.

The offsite method involves limited time on site for installation, which means minimal disruption to a live, working hospital site. The modules can be designed bespoke to suit the individual needs of NHS workers using the space, and are created in a factory-controlled environment, meaning delays due to adverse weather are mitigated, and facilities are checked for snagging ahead of installation.

What’s more, funding agreements for modular facilities often come with a fixed-term contract, covering the period where the facility is needed, with the option for it to be handed back once the agreement expires.

The current, COVID-induced capacity crisis could take up to five years to clear. This is where hiring modular facilities, which can be provided for a set period with the option to extend the agreement once the fixed term is up, could be an attractive solution.

Investing for the future

By opting to hire modular buildings at this time, NHS Trusts can use the facilities to improve patient care, treat more people and deliver more surgical procedures all within a reduced timeframe. Moreover, the potential of these buildings goes further still, providing opportunities for NHS Trusts to create new revenue streams further down the line.

Ultimately, modular theatres offer fast, cost-effective, semi-permanent building solutions for the NHS, while providing exceptionally high-quality results with the ability to drive new revenue and offer greater patient care, for as long as required.

With pressures on the NHS. continuing to mount, it’s vital for healthcare providers to explore alternative solutions to increase resources and expand capacity. This will help ensure NHS employees can work in a supportive, functioning environment at all times, made possible via an adaptable finance option that can align with the Trust’s and patients’ needs.

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