The importance of early engagement with healthcare planners

People who work in the health sector may have heard of healthcare planning, but what exactly is it, and how can it help support clinical and service led decision making, especially around estate? Community Ventures Director of Consultancy Jonathan Turner explains what health planning means, and how you can use it to make better informed decisions.

Our health sector clients are facing challenges including an increasing and ageing population, lifestyle choices and trends, along with a push for personalised care and digitally-enabled healthcare – all of which will have an impact on health systems and the associated infrastructure over the coming years.

This means that clients need to think about the way they deliver and where they deliver services differently. The delivery of healthcare is changing, with a move towards shorter, more effective lengths of stay in hospital, integrating appointments and visits, care closer to home with more community-based services including rehabilitation, virtual wards, and telemedicine, all impacting on the way services are delivered. This is supported by advancements in technology and diagnostics, enabling many more clinical appointments or interventions to be undertaken away from an acute hospital setting.

Healthcare planners can support clients in making informed decisions at the early stages of a project, for organisations to deliver the right care in the most appropriate and sustainable place at the right time for their patients and service users. This support can cover a full project or programme lifecycle, ranging from strategic and service planning and facility planning, through to facility commissioning at the end of a project.

The first stages where healthcare planners can become involved is around service planning, which looks at how geography, demography and epidemiology drive health needs for a population, and how that need translates into service demand. This ensures that the subsequent service model for a specific population is supporting to reduce health inequalities and improve health outcomes.

Once a population service model has been developed this can then be translated into more specific clinical planning work, which looks at the way services can be configured to improve efficiency or flow of patients, such as improved utilisation, separation of emergency and elective care and delivering services closer to people’s homes in a suitable care setting. This stage can include the development of models of care which define the way health services are delivered and outline best practice for a person or patient group as they progress through the stages of a condition, injury or event. Healthcare planners can then support with demand and capacity modelling, which looks at the future activity of a service based on population and demand increase, and what this means for the capacity or space required to deliver that service, i.e. number of beds, theatres, consulting rooms etc.

This strategic work then leads into the more traditional healthcare planning role around facility planning and briefing, ensuring that estate and infrastructure can support the delivery of new clinical models of care. This would normally involve the development of clinical output specifications which ensure all parties in a project, whether refurbishment or new build, are using a common language and are fully briefed on the needs of a specific clinical service or group of services. This then allows for schedules of accommodation to be developed, providing detail on functional content, individual room sizes at Health Building Note (HBN) rates, best practice or clinically driven derogation.

Generally, healthcare planners should be brought in at the early stages of any programme or project, however recently we have provided support to a health client which has required support with the development of models of care for a specific service, followed by activity and capacity modelling specifically around bed numbers. We were brought into this project later in the process, as they had received questions from NHS England on the business case they had submitted. They needed more information around the bed numbers and how new models of care could support improved efficiency around bed numbers. We worked closely with the clinical teams to develop a robust model of care which considered inpatient admission and readmission avoidance, purposeful and therapeutic stays to reduce length of stay and then proactive discharge and support. This model of care then supported the bed modelling process and allowed robust assumptions to be made on reducing length of stay, occupancy, and discharge. The business case has subsequently been resubmitted and the scheme is progressing.

Community Ventures has consultants experienced with all aspects of health consultancy, including experts in healthcare planning lead by Jonathan Turner, who has nearly 30 years’ experience working in healthcare and has experience of providing these service in the UK and overseas. If you’d like to speak to us about how we can use our expertise to enhance your next project or programme, please get in touch.