Simon Corben, Director and Head of Profession, NHS Estates & Facilities Efficiency & Productivity Division at NHSI

The keynote speaker at the Hospital Innovations conference in June was Simon Corben, Director and Head of Profession, NHS Estates & Facilities Efficiency & Productivity Division. It is clear that the role of NHS Improvement is one that he relishes, and he has sharp but uncompromising messages for NHS trusts around the need to “scale up innovation through improved collaboration.” 

Much of this relates to his 14 years in the private sector prior to taking up the NHS role. He is also supported by impressive colleagues including Fiona Daly, national sustainability lead at NHS Improvement, who also addressed the conference demonstrating that she was on the same wavelength as Simon Corben. She explained how NHS Improvement is driving innovation and sustainability through sustainability.

Corben quotes the Lord Carter’s operational productivity review which put forward several recommendations to improve efficiency and reduce variation across the NHS estate. Central to his proposals was the need to ensure that every acute trust has a strategic estates and facilities plan in place.

Corben says: “The STPs are, I think, absolutely in line with the Carter programme. Having worked on some of those myself, reducing costs is a core component. But, more importantly, they were also looking at the care pathways,”

“I would hope that all the provider trusts and the plans they bring back would be cognisant of the initial estates aspect of the STPs. I would also hope that the trusts who report back to my team will reflect the ambition of the STPs.”

Working closely with IHEEM

Fiona Daly, National sustainability lead at NHS Improvement

He reflects that his predecessor, Peter Sellars, now president of the Institute of Healthcare Engineering and Estate Management (IHEEM), did a “phenomenal job” in setting the agenda for change in estates. This includes plans for trusts to operate with a maximum of 35 per cent non-clinical floor space, and that the amount of unoccupied or underused space should be set at a maximum of 2.5 per cent.  As Corben told the conference “sometimes we can’t see how projects link together but there needs to be a focus on really stepping up productivity.”

Indeed, the key aim of the Estates and Facilities Productivity & Efficiency Project Team at NHS Improvement is to support those aims across the acute trust sector to achieve savings of up to £1 billion, as well as additional potential savings for new sector organisations – mental health, community, specialist acute and ambulance trusts.

This will be achieved through reducing the unwarranted variation in costs across the NHS in relation to the operational management of their estate, explained Corben, adding that “The challenge that I have got is to really take this forward and achieve what we anticipate to deliver by 2020. We must provide consistency across the NHS estate to ensure when we look for capital funding we can back that up with quality data and assurance around the condition and operation of the estate.

“If we can make a robust argument as to why trust X is running at £200 per square metre and why trust Y is running at £300 per square metre, then we can make a quality case for additional capital to tackle things like backlog maintenance and other transformational change, he explained.”

Keeping the patient in mind

Corben is quite clear that success is not just about reducing costs across the piece, but it also involves not just being innovative in bringing quality into the environment to improve patient care. STPs must become transparent and responsive and make better uses of non-clinical space and work more collaboratively with suppliers, for example for hospital food. He says: “This involves getting our heads around the costs of space and how we can work more efficiently with technology and using the telephone to reduce the long-term costs of office space which at times are ridiculously high and off the dial.”