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How will technology skills shape EFM in an integrated NHS landscape?

Published on : 10/5/23
Reading time : 6 min
  • Discover how tech skills will revolutionise NHS EFM. See the impact of ICSs, data analytics, AI, and what the journey to a future-ready workforce looks like.

    On the future of Estates & Facilities Management (EFM) in the Health Service, Deputy Director for Estates for NHS England, Fiona Daly, believes:

    "Integration via Integrated Care Systems (ICS) is the way forward, creating a resilient workforce equipped to meet the needs of our rapidly changing demographics¹." 

    ICSs bring together the NHS, local authorities and third parties to take on responsibility for the resources and health of an area. They are seen by NHS leaders such as The King’s Fund² and the BMA³ as the future of health and care integration in England and are central to both the NHS Long Term Plan⁴ and the Health and Care Act⁵. 

    However, the shift to ICSs will change the skills needed within NHS EFM teams. Co-founder of Aiming for Health Success, Andrew Haldenby, believes that The Jean Bishop Integrated Care Centre in Hull gives a glimpse of what ICSs mean in practice and the skills that will be needed. The Centre includes a multidisciplinary team collaborating on new working methods such as Virtual Wards and AI, so “[evolving to work in] this new environment means that NHS teams, both clinical and non-clinical, will benefit from new skills⁶."

    So why are these new skills critical for EFM teams? EFM will maintain the smooth operations of the new facilities, so they’ll need new skills to keep them working. He states, “I would expect EFM teams to develop skills in data analysis. They would then be able to take full part in the management discussion around the efficiency of the existing estates and the pros and cons of developing new facilities⁶."  The shift to ICSs means it’s no longer about just coping with the pandemic reshaping healthcare priorities⁷, an ageing population⁸, and NHS workforce shortages predicted to grow through 2036⁹. Even if you have the workforce capacity, you’ll still need to ensure they have the right skill sets. 

    So, what do integrated skills look like in practice? What questions should you ask to test your team’s future preparedness? With a focus on technological skill sets, this article will show how integration can support future-proofing your workforce in critical areas: 

    • Digital Skills: Embracing data analytics, robotics, and machine learning 
    • Sustainability & Net Zero Targets: Meeting the 2040 carbon goals 
    • Leadership & Change Management: Steering teams through evolving landscapes 

    Discover the answers below through insights from NHS and EFM experts. 

    Do you have the right digital skills? 

    On the NHS’ future, Haldenby argues, "Underpinning everything will be the greater use of data to improve management⁶." Lecturer in EFM at the University West of England, Chris Mason, agrees, stating, "You need evidence to develop a strategy. And this is where data and analysis come in¹⁰.” However, the greater use of data requires people with the right skills to collect, manage, interpret and implement that data. Therefore, Mason argues for a five-point process to help guide data set-up within EFM teams, highlighting the skills needed to make data a success¹⁰. 

    • Make sure your data management staff understand the EFM aims 

    “If [your data managers] don't understand [your aims], they can't give any meaningful advice”, says Mason⁶. So, you need to ensure your entire team understands where EFM fits into wider NHS aims so they can determine the useful data accordingly. 

    • Ensure your data is reliable 

    Mason continues, “You need to establish, is that data correct? Is it robust? Because the data is only as good as the person who's put it in. Ultimately, "The data is only as good as its source. If you get the data wrong, you can have significant issues¹⁰."   

    • Consider your data storage 

    Where your data is and who has access to it is critical to ensure your data is secure and reliable. Mason argues, “Not everybody needs to see all the data, so it's about who has appropriate access to the data¹⁰.” 

    • Benchmark your data measurements 

    Data is only valuable when put into a context that makes it understandable, so you should include a ‘compared to what’ element within your reporting. Mason says this can look like, for example, “Something per square metre. That is a good ratio you can benchmark across the buildings¹⁰.” 

    • Understand what you want to do with the data 

    Understanding what you want to do with the data in the short and long term is critical to the story you tell with the data to build trust within it. For example, if you want to use the data to measure a building, “you’ll need data that can help you understand how the building is being used and what functions go on in that building¹⁰." 

    Mason believes that “the soft benefits of this process is that you build up trust within the data¹⁰”, so if its insights ever mean you have to challenge what departments, teams or individuals are doing, it’s easy to point to the metrics.  

    This underscores the need for skilled professionals who can critically analyse and interpret data, ensuring its relevance and accuracy to generate insights. As Daly puts it, “That's going to be one of the key skills that we need within our workforce, the ability to look at data, understand the data, gain insights from the data and then communicate it to a broad brush of people¹.” 

    As you assess if you have the right skill set, consider:

    • Where is your data coming from, and how can you verify its accuracy? 
    • Can you critically analyse and interpret your data? 
    • How often do you check if your data aligns with your current needs and objectives? 
    • How can we combine data from diverse sources, such as patient administration systems, electronic health records, point of care systems, and non-NHS care providers like care homes and hospices, to achieve an overall view of the ICS? 

    Do you have the skills for using AI? 

    The NHS Long Term Workforce Plan acknowledges the importance of artificial intelligence (AI) in shaping the future of healthcare, “Decision support and artificial intelligence are developing all the time. These technologies need to be embraced by the NHS⁴."

    Mason believes that to get the most from AI, your EFM teams must understand how they can best use it throughout their work. “Artificial intelligence is the way of the future; it's going to be a fantastic tool. But the skill that the Facilities Manager needs is to be able to understand what it will actually do¹⁰?”  

    Ultimately, Mason argues that you can have the best system, but you won't get your benefit if you don’t have the users to operate it correctly or the scientists to ensure it’s properly functioning. So, the primary skill needed is managing integration: “It’s all about integrating AI into your management processes” to best support humans rather than replacing them¹⁰.  

    The NHS Long Term Plan supports this integrated view of the future, which states, “AI will make it possible for many tasks to be automated, quality to increase and staff to focus on the complexity of human interactions that technology will never master.” The skill will be figuring out where AI fits into your workforce⁴. 

    As you assess if you have the right skill set, consider:

    • What your broader EFM aims are, and how AI might be able to support you in achieving them? 
    • Do you have the skill sets to use and maintain AI systems? 
    • Where are opportunities for integration between AI and your workforce, and how can you best manage that integration?

    Do you have the skills for robotics & machine learning? 

    A tangible way data skills will support your team is through robots, which can make efficient operations and help you derive insights. However, robots create the need for engineers to ensure their longevity and consistent performance. Therefore, consider training programmes to ensure your EFM teams are well-equipped to work alongside robots, understanding their functionalities and limitations. 

    As you assess if you have the right skill set, consider:

    • What robots can best support you? 
    • Are you using the data generated by these robots to improve your operations and patient care? 
    • Do you have a team to handle robot maintenance and troubleshooting? 

    Do you have the tech skills to reach your 2040 net zero targets? 

    Meeting the Greener NHS targets of net zero by 2040¹¹ will require many skills, such as supply chain management, space planning, and energy & resource management, that come down to “knowing how a building is used, its functions, and the activities taking place”, according to Mason¹⁰. 

    Regarding technological skills, Mason argues that Machine Learning will be critical to “help in identifying which buildings are performing well and which ones need investment¹⁰”. Machines can support you to optimise energy consumption, predict maintenance needs, and manage properties more efficiently. 

    As you assess if you have the right skill set, consider:

    • Are you using the data to make informed decisions towards your net zero goals? 
    • How are you using robotics for efficient space usage and reducing energy wastage? 

    Do you have the tech leadership & change management skills? 

    Successful EFM leadership and change management now and into the future is about balancing the number of new and old skills within your organisation. As a lecturer, Mason believes the way to attract apprentices with the skills you need could be to partner with universities and highlight the NHS’ unique appeal: “the variety of work in the public sector can be far more interesting and engaging than in the private sector¹⁰.” Yet, while looking ahead is crucial, leaders must also value the tech skills they currently possess within their teams because the transition to new ways of working won’t take place overnight. As Daly argues, “We need to make sure people understand the old systems and the new systems. So heating, for example, you'd move off of steam, maybe onto a heat pump. So people will need to understand both of those systems¹." Daly argues that leaders need to get good at navigating the retention and transfer of knowledge with the recruitment of the right new skills “through things like the apprenticeship programmes”. Furthermore, you could use the upcoming ERIC data to benchmark your continued success in this area. 

    Finally, leaders must become skilled at managing diverse teams. Sodexo’s Senior Performance & Future of Work Manager, Ryan Candy, believes “leaders should understand their team beyond just their productivity and show genuine interest in their lives” to make each member feel understood and valued¹². 

    As you assess if you have the right skill set, consider:

    • Are your recruitment strategies aligned with your wider NHS goals? 
    • How are you ensuring skills get passed down? 
    • Are you supporting your team emotionally in ways that meet their diverse needs? 

    Do you need support for your tech skills integration? 

    As an EFM leader, increasing integration is critical to build a future-proofed team that is capable of delivering in the drive to ICSs. However, you may need support to achieve your aims. The Government Sourcing Playbook suggests outsourcing could be a way for the NHS to meet its long-term aims¹³. "Organisations, such as Sodexo, have skills, resources, scale, and we need to use those”, according to Daly¹. 

    With outsourcing support from Sodexo, you could create an integrated EFM department future-proofed to better handle upcoming challenges. 


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