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Health bill delay slows efficiency drive

Attempts to generate savings from the healthcare estate have been frustrated by the legislative gridlock caused by the slow passage of the Health and Social Care Bill through Parliament.

Some 1.9 million sq m of space are still “wasted” at a potential cost of £2 billion to the taxpayer, according to the third annual Reforming the NHS Estate report by consultant EC Harris.

The total wasted space – buildings classified as underused or empty by health bodies – was reduced by just 210,000 sq m in 2010/11, compared with a 0.9 million sq m reduction in the previous year.

It leaves an area the size of all Sainsbury’s UK stores, or 264 Premier League football pitches, still being wasted.

EC Harris claims that by selling half this area, some £1bn of capital could be raised, with the potential to generate a further £1bn through better procurement and improved facilities management.

The expense of maintaining wasted space runs to £288m, according to the report, with a huge gap between the best and the worst performing health clients in what they spend on maintenance.

The best performing primary care trusts (PCTs) spend an average of £58.34 per sq m for hard facilities management compared to £205.22 at the worst.

As a result of the government’s health reforms, PCTs will be abolished and replaced by GP commissioning groups by April 2013.

EC Harris health sector partner Conor Ellis welcomed the progress that has been made, but blamed the Health Bill and widespread changes currently gripping the sector for the declining pace of efficiency improvements.

He said:  “I think that progress in the last year has been slow and that is not surprising given the focus on organisation and structure and the fact that there were a number of mergers in organisations and changes at senior level both on hospital boards and in PCT management.

“Resolution of this problem requires a lot of clarity and the health bill has taken nearly two years to reach fruition. 

“The point is that while all that is going on there is less clarity around and had that not been going on perhaps more progress might have been made.”

Mr Ellis warned that further progress might be more difficult given the fact that the vast majority of the remaining “wasted” estate is under foundation trust control.

But he welcomed government plans for a ‘PropCo’, NHS Property Services, to manage the disposal of NHS assets.

Mr Ellis said that the sector was keen to see details for the proposal and get on with the task of delivering change.

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