Watch this space: how utilisation studies can inform your health estates strategy

When it comes to the health service estate, everyone is having to do more with less. With patient demand increasing yet budgets being squeezed, health organisations need to take full advantage of opportunities to make the most of their estate.

That’s why maximising the efficient use of your resources is so important. Whether you’re looking at clinical areas, meeting rooms or desk space, you need to get an objective overview of the actual use and occupancy of your buildings and spaces in order to make data-driven decisions.

We can all recognise that the pandemic has revolutionised the way people work, with technology enabling different ways of working, and opportunities for working from home critical to recruitment and retention of staff. These changes also bring the chance to relook at the blend of spaces within our healthcare estates, and see if we can implement new innovative approaches to improve efficiency and rationalise cost.

We’ve worked with health organisations across the primary care, community, acute and mental health sectors to help them understand not only their actual estate utilisation, but also support them with using this data to make informed decisions for the future, such as what types of spaces they need and where.

We recently worked with an NHS Trust who wanted to understand the utilisation of a specific building, so that they could decide whether to keep, repurpose or dispose of it. We installed motion and heat detector sensors in all rooms of the building, and monitored usage for a month, giving us granular detail down to 10 minute slots. We were able to produce a colour-coded, at-a-glance report for the Trust showing that usage of most rooms was very low, and some rooms were not used at all during the month. We were able to drill down into details such as what days and times utilisation was highest and lowest, and the split of clinical and office room use. The Trust found the information so useful that we’re now repeating the exercise across all 35 of their buildings, giving them objective and robust data which they can use to inform their estates strategy and provide evidence for capital business cases.

The Trust is now exploring the idea of rationalising their estate by exiting two underutilised buildings and relocating teams into a more suitable shared facility within the local authority’s campus. This not only helps them save money on their estates cost, but will also enable them to have better collaboration with other public sector bodies leading to better partnership working.

Another approach to studying utilisation is through capacity modelling. This high-level, desk-based exercise can help healthcare organisations plan ahead, looking at the capacity of resources available versus the forecasted demand. For example, a primary care practice with three consulting rooms can only offer a finite amount of in-person appointments per year, no matter their staffing or scheduling. Capacity modelling can provide a guide of whether this will keep up with patient demand in the coming years, which can then lead to options appraisals on projects such as refurbishing rooms to make them into clinical spaces, expanding the provision of virtual appointments, or even extending or rebuilding the surgery.

Want to explore how utilisation can help your organisation gather evidence to inform your decisions? Get in touch.