Cheaper and greener building solutions

The NHS SBS Modular Buildings Framework is the only national agreement of its type, covering offsite building solutions for purchase, hire and lease. NHS Shared Business Services discuss the agreement and outline its benefits for the healthcare sector

All public sector organisations could achieve an average of five per cent savings compared to purchasing solutions direct via a new Modular Buildings framework – the only national agreement of its type, launched by NHS Shared Business Services (NHS SBS).

NHS SBS is a unique joint venture between the Department of Health and Sopra Steria founded in 2004. As the leading provider of business support services to the NHS in England, it works with over a third of provider trusts and 100 per cent of commissioning bodies, as well as a range of other NHS organisations. NHS SBS’ mission is to deliver £1 billion savings back to the NHS by 2020, having already delivered audited savings of over £400 million. This has been achieved by providing Finance & Accounting, Procurement and Employment Services to hundreds of NHS organisations.

The NHS SBS strategic procurement team offers a large number of national framework agreements that are available to all NHS organisations. The new Modular Buildings framework adds to its growing Estates and Facilities portfolio, which includes Construction Consultancy Services, Electrical Sundries, Estates Services, Facilities Management and Waste Management Services to name but a few.

Modular construction is a process in which a building is constructed off-site, under controlled plant conditions, using the same materials and designing to the same codes and standards as conventionally built facilities but in about half the time. The efficiency gains from manufactured, modular solutions support the delivery of the government’s construction and industry strategy targets, which include time and cost savings as well as whole life cost benefits and in use savings.

Procuring modular buildings
The new NHS SBS Modular Building framework provides a compliant route for the procurement of all types of modular buildings, covering offsite building solutions for purchase, hire and lease with specific lots for healthcare, education, catering and bespoke solutions. The Healthcare Lots have been further divided to cover hire projects and purchases or leases under and above £1 million. This ensures that only the right mix of specialist providers have been awarded under each Lot. Although governed under the NHS Terms and Conditions there is also the option of using more specialist construction contracts such as the JCT and NEC3 where appropriate.

The framework has been awarded following a fair and open competition; with the specification developed through consultation with the market and experts in the field. Suppliers have been awarded based on a mixture of quality and price criteria and have all passed stringent checks on their financial status, quality standards, health and safety policies and environmental credentials. Participating organisations can choose to perform a further competition under the agreement to drive further savings, or simply direct award to a preferred supplier, which further speeds up the procurement process.

The idea for the framework itself came from the growing number of enquiries from NHS trusts looking for an offsite construction procurement route. With limited procurement options available and EU procurement regulations to adhere to, many organisations faced severe delays in their projects that negated against modular’s main advantage, which is its speed of delivery.

The scope of the framework itself is broad, covering any offsite solution including operating theatres, wards, GP surgeries, office space, catering facilities and specialist units. The expertise in the offsite construction market means that any new or temporary building project now has the potential to be built offsite. With only specialist offsite construction suppliers with full turnkey capabilities being awarded, there is the opportunity for early collaboration and no need for the further sub-contracting of work.

The NHS Five Year Forward View has encouraged efforts to deliver more healthcare out of acute hospitals and closer to home, with the aim of providing better care for patients, cutting the number of unplanned bed days in hospitals and reducing net costs. The framework can look to support this anticipated demand shift, by providing new GP surgeries in much shorter timescales than through traditional onsite build methods. Offsite construction can also be used to quickly establish new temporary or permanent facilities in the case of emergencies such as flooding.

Constructing solutions to high demand
Another area of interest to the NHS is the ability to purchase or hire wards and operating theatres quickly to deal with influxes in demand, particularly during the winter period. These are built to the equivalent, if not higher, standard than traditional onsite construction. This is because up to 80 per cent of the building is produced in a controlled factory setting. Any potential issues can therefore be ironed out in advance in the factory rather than onsite. The framework also encourages the use of Building Information Modelling (BIM), which is a process that involves creating and using an intelligent 3D model to inform and communicate project decisions.

Popular non-medical building types include office space, staff accommodation and modular kitchens, which can be a great way to introduce a new kitchen facility to any site quickly, or to continue catering operations for sites that are undertaking a refurbishment. A temporary modular kitchen can be specified to make sure that a site can carry on serving meals to patients, staff and visitors while the work takes place. Temporary kitchens can be specified in a range of different sizes, can be used to cater for menus of any type, and can provide anything from a few hundred, to many thousands, of meals each day. They arrive fully equipped and can be up and running on site in a matter of hours.

Permanent modular kitchens offer a number of advantages over traditional build, such as: speed of construction (they can be constructed in as little as six weeks); reduced disruption to your site (as most work takes place in a factory controlled environment); the ability to expand the kitchen once on site by simply adding more units, as well as the ability to move the kitchen to a different location at a later date. While some site preparation work may be required to ensure the relevant services are in place, the modular kitchen units arrive complete with equipment and services installed, meaning that the installation time on site can last just a few days.

Green credentials
There are huge benefits to offsite construction, particularly within the NHS where there is often limited onsite space, urgent requirements and squeezed capital budgets. This framework aims to solve these issues through an easy to use procurement route with specialist suppliers who can all provide full turnkey solutions. With projects nearly always running on time and on budget, and different financing models available, modular solutions are already starting to become more common place within the health service.

One final area of benefit of modular buildings is their environmentally friendly and green credentials, which makes them more sustainable than traditional construction methods. The manufacture approach used in modular building construction ensures that strict factory quality control systems are adhered to and this in turn leads to a more efficient construction process. By utilising sustainable materials and minimising material wastage, environmental and social responsibilities are accounted for without imposing onerous cost implications on the budget. For healthcare environments, modular construction scores highly, not only in combining lower embodied energy use and consumption, but also cleaner sites and reduced waste.

There has already been substantial interest in the new framework from across the NHS in the UK including Northern Ireland. If you do require any further information, including details on how to access the agreement, please contact the NHS SBS contract enquiries team at or 0161 212 3940

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