Levelling Up Healthcare Inequalities With The Additional Capacity Offering From Vanguard Healthcare Solutions

With the recent enactment of ‘Plan B’ – and as the Omicron variant of the coronavirus sweeps through the country – it is critical that the NHS is supported throughout this difficult winter period, and beyond.

A significant jump from the October figure of 7,059, the latest data indicates that 10,646 people waited more than 12 hours for care in England’s hospitals in November. With record-breaking statistics such as this growing month on month, it is imperative that any strategies in development to support the NHS seek to implement long-term solutions of capacity expansion, focusing on mobile and modular facilities as tools that can adapt to suit the needs of the health service.

Published recently by the BBC, the ‘NHS Tracker’ tool allows its users to access data relating to average A&E waiting times, hospital bed waits, and ambulance queues for their postcode and compares this against the English national average and  the data from two years ago, pre-Covid.  An exploration of the tracker software demonstrates that, in many cases, waiting times have stayed the same or worsened when compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Fundamentally, a continuation of the status quo regarding the UK’s healthcare strategy will not be enough to prevent these troubling statistics from worsening. Beyond investment into the establishment of Community Diagnostic Centres (CDCs) across the country, which is of course, welcome, the expansion of A&E facilities must also be considered as a crucial dimension to any form of waiting list recovery plan.

To prevent disparities between the waiting times in a given region and the national average from widening, it is vital that the expansion of healthcare facilities is targeted toward regions with above-average waiting times; this should also seek to coincide with deprived areas where waiting lists are typically longer and act as a source of health inequality. Vanguard’s extensive portfolio in delivering healthcare facilities to exceptional standards is testament to the real-world potential of this system with the benefits of additional capacity already being witnessed.

To help manage patient flow during periods of heightened pressure,  Vanguard delivered a tailored modular solution at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh through the construction of a new Minor Injuries Unit (MIU) alongside the hospital’s A&E department. Designed in collaboration with hospital staff to suit their needs, the bespoke solution combined an existing mobile laminar flow theatre with new modular facilities, culminating in a space that offered a seamless patient experience from the start to end of treatment. Vanguard’s use of modular facilities enhanced the flexibility of the building’s design and means that, into the future, the facility can be adapted in terms of both size and function.

Within hours of opening the MIU in Edinburgh, its impact was immediately felt by hospital staff, with 20 patients diverted from A&E to the MIU in the first hour alone. For patient outcomes to improve, and for the gaps between postcodes on the NHS tracker to be narrowed efficiently, expanding capacity through mobile and modular solutions that centre flexibility at the heart of design, will be crucial.

A similar facility, delivered by Vanguard at Southmead Hospital in Bristol to temporarily expand A&E capacity to account for social distancing guidelines, proved equally successful. The rapid delivery of this facility enabled it to open to patients sooner than would have been possible with a traditional brick-and-mortar build, and its standalone-nature meant that disruption to the main A&E building was virtually non-existent, leading to the prioritisation of positive patient outcomes.

For healthcare to be truly ‘levelled up’, regional health inequalities – visible through the stark differences in waiting times recorded across the country – must be urgently tackled. Whilst reports suggest that the government’s elective recovery plan will recommend that patients travel to receive care at facilities with shorter waiting times, it is clear that this is an unsustainable, long-term solution.

Instead, appropriate measures must be taken to expand healthcare facilities with an approach characterised by strategic foresight.  This is particularly critical given the pressures associated with the winter season which, combined with rising cases of the coronavirus, culminates in a unique challenge for the NHS that requires creative solutions.

To learn more about how Vanguard’s modular facilities can support the NHS build back smarter from the pandemic, you can read the peer-reviewed article in the British Journal of Healthcare Management, or visit our website.