NHS Estates abolition leaves design vacuum

NHS Estates abolition leaves design vacuum

THE GOVERNMENT’S HEALTHCARE property agency NHS Estates is to be abolished, Health Secretary John Reid announced following his review of ‘Arm’s Length Bodies’ However there is scant indication of where a lead will come from on design quality in future. In the centre’s effort to save £500m of taxpayers’ money by “streamlining, merging or abolishing” these bodies, NHS Estates was one of 18 (out of 38) to be abolished. It is not yet known how many staff will be lost.

The National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA) will take on a number of the tasks currently undertaken by NHS Estates. As well as “supporting independent ethical reviews of all research that could affect patients,” it will “take the lead on hospital food, cleanliness and safe hospital design.” It is thought a range of functions will be devolved to local/regional decision-makers. However it is unclear where health-specific leadership and guidance on design quality will come from in the future, however some believe CABE (the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment) could take on this role.

NHS Estates would not confirm which services would be moving to the NPSA, and could only comment, via a statement from chief executive Peter Wearmouth, that “most if not everything we do will find a new home,” and that “over the next three months NHS Estates will be working through the detail of the report ‘Reconfiguring the Department of Health’s Arms Length Bodies’.” He said that all current work undertaken by the Agency will continue, but will be “delivered via a different entity.” He acknowledged the “uncertainty” created for staff, but confirmed NHS Estates will continue in its present form while the details of the changes are formulated.

Head of the capital investment unit at London Strategic Health Authorities Duane Passman told HO: “Design quality wasn’t mentioned, and there could be a strong case for sourcing that from CABE.” In terms of the devolution of some functions, he said: “Anything that links policy and delivery on the front line is a good thing.” Passman added: “Perhaps it is the appropriate time to devolve functions,” but that “we have still to see the implementation plan and the devolved functions.” It is thought that the Agency’s policy arm will remain in some form at the Department of Health. The DoH said: “Over the summer we will be looking at how the changes will be implemented and the timescales.” It is believed the changes will take effect in 2005.

Copyright Wilmington Publishing Ltd. Jul/Aug 2004

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