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Repair & maintenance:

Facing the challenges of Covid-19 in the healthcare sector

We were recently joined by Head of Facilities Management at Care UK, Kevin Orme, who took us through how his business and team have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and gave us some insight into how they are meeting the new challenges.

As well as heading the FM team at Care UK, one of the UK’s largest independent providers to the NHS, Kevin has also worked in facilities management roles at facilities services specialists ISS, as well as Barclays, Abbey National and Norwich and Peterborough Building Society. His role means he is able to provide insight into the changes the healthcare sector is undergoing and share useful advice for all decorating contractors on how to adapt going forwards.

The challenge faced and lessons learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic

The last two months have brought incredible challenge across the whole of the healthcare and social care sectors.

Within Care UK’s facilities management model all contract management and procurement is retained in house. Before the pandemic, around 4,000 work orders were raised each month and were passed to an established list of pre-vetted contractors.

Currently, there has been a drop of around 75 percent to 1,000 work orders a month since the beginning of the lockdown. The property team, who have a planned program of decorating work across the homes, have paused this activity but are planning to restart work as soon as it is safe to do so.

While this is still an ongoing challenge and new lessons are being learnt every day, there are some key learnings that have been made so far which are valuable for any industry:

  • Having an in-house helpdesk with the ability and technology to work from home has been invaluable and speed taken to mobilise has been impressive

  • Stopping non-essential maintenance work was easy. However, it has been incredibly difficult agreeing with the stakeholders how and when this work should recommence.

  • Clear and timely communication with the homes and the supply chain has been key

  • Using one system to raise and track all work orders is invaluable. This ensures outstanding work per home/per contractor can be managed efficiently.

  • Plant rooms that segregate contractors from other building users need to be external if access restrictions become the norm

  • Dynamic risk assessments and method statements need to consider infection control on every job going forward, not just during COVID-19

The new ways of working

In terms of what the new normal will look like, it is likely that the whole sector will have a phased approach in lifting access restrictions. As care homes contain many vulnerable residents this won’t be at the same timescales as the general population. Rather than a sudden switch to the green light on restarting paused work and new work orders, the industry will adopt a more cautious phased approach.

Health and safety measures and in particular risk assessments will become even more important and will need to consider infection control more than they have before.

Inevitably, there will be much more stringent infection control procedures in place across care homes and this is likely to be adapted across other industries as well.

Initially, this will mean:

  • Ongoing temperature checks

  • Restricted access to parts of the home

  • PPE including face masks (type II R)

  • Greater hand washing and sanitisation

Something often overlooked, but vital is that there will be a requirement for contractors to change clothing/overalls not between jobs, but also at the end of the day.

Ideally, there will also be complete separation of contractors from staff and residents. Where possible, this will mean confining contractors to unoccupied wings or floors of buildings.

The future for healthcare maintenance

For many businesses coming out of this period, cash flow will be a major challenge. Over the past two months, in care homes, at least £6 million per week has been lost in fees. This will mean that the funds available will need to be focussed on frontline services and it will be the job of the FM team to allocate the money where it is most needed.

It is difficult to make concrete predictions of what the future of the care sector will look like post-coronavirus. However, Kevin was able to outline some of his expectations, and again, this pattern is likely to be followed in other sectors:

  • It will be harder to attract residents into care homes as there will be an unfair but understandable view that they are not safe places to be in. The condition of the environment, including finishes, décor and furniture, will all help give a positive impression, which may in turn increase maintenance activity. However, FM teams may be expected to deliver more with less funding as pressure increases to invest money elsewhere within the business.

  • There will be a backlog of work and combined with the pressure on budgets, there is an expectation it will take two to three years to get back to normal spend levels on building and fabric maintenance

  • Longer-term, by 2040, the age dependency ratio is expected to increase from 282 to 368. This will increase demand for bed spaces and in turn, money spent across the industry should increase significantly.

  • Maintenance work will always be required. Expenditure on repairs and maintenance will also have to increase to reflect the condition of either old building stock or newer leasehold stock that comes with repairing obligations.

From a wider property team point of view, the care sector will be looking to the construction sector to help with innovation on how to future-proof homes in the event of another pandemic, such as products like Dulux Trade Sterishield with finishes that help prevent the spread of viruses.