Speech: Minister of State for Health on the Health Infrastructure Plan: 16 March 2021

Department Of Health

April 1
18:30 2021

Introduction and thanks

Thank you very much, Simon, and good morning everyone.

Thank you also to everyone in NHSE/I and the Institute of Healthcare Engineering and Estate Management for organising today. Organising events like this are always a challenge, even more so in the current circumstances. So thank you very much.

It is an important event, and Im absolutely delighted to be here as the minister with direct responsibility for both the NHS estate and all of the work you all do with it.

In normal times, I would have of course given multiple speeches in my 18 months in the role, but the challenges of organising such events as this during the pandemic, and the pressure of work we have all faced, have meant that I have generally politely declined invitations that have been extended.

Todays event is different. As soon as Simon and his team invited me there was no question I would say yes.

That is because of just how central and vital the work the profession and people represented here today has been to our pandemic response, and how vital your work is to our NHS every day.

Now, I understand attendees cover the full breadth of those working in and around supporting our estates from NHSE/I, to directors of estates, to finance directors to those working in the facilities space. It really is a great privilege to have the chance to speak to you all today.

So, before I go any further, I want to start by saying a huge thank you to all of you.

Thank you to all of those senior estates professionals attending today.

And thank you to every one of the 100,000 people who work in NHS estates and facilities, who you collectively represent.

Now I always remember the quote quite possibly apocryphal but I hope not because it is a very powerful quote and it is one which you may have also heard my Secretary of State use in the past, attributed to John F Kennedy when he visited NASA for the first time.

During his tour of the facility, he met a janitor who was carrying a broom down the hallway. Kennedy asked the janitor what he did for NASA, and the janitor replied, Im helping put a man on the moon.

And it is that approach and sentiment which I think should characterise our attitudes towards our amazing NHS workforce. Whether you are a consultant or a cleaner, an emergency department nurse or an estate manager and any and all roles in between you are all vital to help the NHS do what it does day in and day out which is to save lives and help patients recover from illness.

Indeed, I often hear those who work in this profession as it is represented today described as the hidden heroes of the NHS.

That heroism has never been greater.

My role is to work with you, Simon and his team to do what we can to make sure to ensure that role isnt quite so hidden. So that people know what you do everyday to make our NHS function.

You have worked tirelessly during these extremely challenging circumstances.

You and your teams have played a pivotal role in so many of our great achievements.

The shift to telemedicine, which kept so many of our vital services going; the building of the Nightingale hospitals in 9 days to ensure that there was always the surge capacity should the NHS need it; the doubling of ICU capacity in 9 days.

All this alongside your ceaseless work to adapt the estate to meet the demands and clinical needs of this pandemic.

From testing and reworking patient flows, to supporting social distancing and even more intensive cleaning and infection control.

With the 7 Nightingale hospitals and the National Oxygen Infrastructure Programme alone you have supported essential critical care capacity. Which meant no matter how tough it got, no matter how challenging it got with the number of patients in our hospitals needing care during the pandemic up to 37,000 at the peak of the second wave there was always that care available to make sure our NHS was not overwhelmed.

And it is also important that we take a moment to thank all of the partners who make up our NHS supply chain and work alongside you all.

Without your efforts and their efforts, the Nightingales and the National Oxygen Programme would not have delivered the significant increase in additional oxygenated beds.

And you have risen to the occasion in a way that you should all be incredibly proud of, reflecting the way we and the British people are all incredibly proud of you.

And of course, the broader context within which you have achieved these things has never been more challenging. And the human costs have sadly been significant.

I wanted to pause to note how saddened I was to learn of the members of the estates profession, your NHS family, who have lost their lives due to COVID.

May I take this opportunity to express my deepest condolences to their families and friends. Many of these friends and colleagues are listening today. Our thoughts and prayers remain with all of you.

Now I know that the estates community is closely knit, and that sense of community and collaboration will be more vital than ever as we move forward from this pandemic.

Indeed, moving forward will require us all even more so than normal to work as one team. Recognising that every person, every link in that team is vital for its functioning.

Challenges faced

Now the challenges should not be underestimated and as you all know, many are historic challenges.

Government investment, by governments of all parties over recent decades, has been unpredictable at times.

There has been constant pressure on you to balance competing demands from the urgent demands of addressing critical infrastructure risks, day-to-day maintenance needs, to raising your eyes to look to the long term, and to develop an estate that is the right size and shape to meet future service needs.

The needs of maintaining an ageing estate has meant that it has often been hard for many of you, the profession, and us to always focus on the long term as much as perhaps we should have.

All too often, the urgency of short-term pressures has won out.

Some specific challenges

As we look forward, the approach we are adopting as a government, championed by the Prime Minister, is to tackle both investing in meeting immediate needs, but in parallel investing in the long term, with a long-term, predictable pipeline of investment.

The specific challenges we face are significant. Backlog maintenance is a 9 billion challenge that you all grapple with every day.

The day-to-day costs of keeping the estate in working order are huge and thats why weve allocated 4.2 billion for NHS operational capital investment, supporting NHS trusts to refurbish and maintain their estate. As I say, you grapple with those challenges every day. Every day you ensure that our estates and our hospitals are there, working to deliver that world-class healthcare.

I want to start by looking at some long-term challenges as well.

Climate change is a global challenge, and the NHS must play its part in achieving net-zero carbon emissions a legal requirement for the whole UK by 2050.

We must create an estate fit for the clinical and patient needs of the 21st century, reflecting the advancements in science and clinical treatments. And the way in which we are able to treat different illnesses and help keep people alive and fit and experiencing a high quality of life for longer.

We must ensure that we build an estate that is capable of incorporating technological advancements as they emerge over the coming years as a standard.

Moreover, the vision set out by this governments long-term plan for the NHS a vision built around patient and place and the integration of care is a vision which simply cannot be achieved unless it is enabled by strategic, sustained investment in our NHS infrastructure and estates.

The approach to strategic investment

Thats why we must deliver that long-term, strategic approach an approach that enables trusts to look beyond day-to-day demands, and to embrace the vision and intent shown, perhaps encapsulated, by the quote from the janitor at NASA.

I know it is my job to ensure that approach is driven by clear leadership and delivered at pace.

In that spirit, as Simon in his introduction mentioned, Id like to talk about the NHS Strategic Infrastructure Board, which I have the honour of chairing.

In this role, Ive seen first hand the collaboration between NHS staff at all levels.

And weve seen how well traditional silos and ways of working can be transformed in a pandemic situation.

My hope is this will continue long beyond the pandemic, and that the positive structural shifts in healthcare that have been accelerated as a result of the pandemic continue to develop at pace.

All NHS trust estates teams are now registered in the NHS Estates Team Collaboration Hub. This is an excellent tool that enables the estates and facilities community to communicate across the system, and crucially share knowledge and experience and share best practice.

This will enable more joined-up, collegiate working on the ground, so we need the same at the centre.

We also need collaborative national leadership to make health infrastructure challenges a priority as we go forward.

We need all the national players in the NHS estate in the sa

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