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Building efficiency in the NHS

Sensors will replace traditional methods of measuring and assessing the utilisation of buildings

Having the right data could reveal suitable space that the NHS already owns, says Sorsa-Leslie
Having the right data could reveal suitable space that the NHS already owns, says Sorsa-Leslie

New sensing technology developed by a Scottish property technology start-up is being used to help the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK manage its physical assets more effectively.


Beringar, working with the Scottish Innovation Centre for Sensor and Imaging Systems (CENSIS), has developed a non-intrusive sensor which, it claims, will significantly improve the health service’s understanding of how its buildings and moveable assets, such as hospital beds and crash trolleys, are used.


By sending data wirelessly using a long range, low power, wide-area network (LoRaWAN or LoRa), the sensor will replace traditional methods of measuring and assessing the utilisation of buildings, such as clipboard surveys.


The technology can accurately count the number of people in a room, check building occupancy levels and identifying trends in the ways patients and staff use buildings.


It can also measure temperature, record air quality and monitor CO2 levels. As the product is developed further, it could be used to sense exactly which beds are vacant in a hospital in real time.


The NHS spends an estimated £30bn every year managing its estates and facilities, but consultant-led studies suggest many of its buildings are being used to a fraction of their capacity. A recent trial of Beringar’s technology at the NHS’ Loxford Health Centre in Ilford, Essex, confirmed this analysis.


Collecting more than 160,000 data points during a one-month trial at Loxford, the device reportedly detected empty space which staff thought was in regular use. The sensor, which counted the number of occupants every 10 seconds, transferred data back to a specially-designed dashboard, allowing estate managers to identify how they could boost the building’s productivity.


“It’s important for us to identify where the NHS is adding value, and adapt our services to the requirements of the local community -- over time, its needs change,” said Carolyn Botfield, estates director at the National Health Service.


“Clinics are often block-booked, but we have no way of finding out if just a few people, or twenty patients, are attending every week. The sensor will allow us to achieve real-time feedback on how our buildings are being used, enabling us to make smarter decisions.”


“The NHS spends around a quarter of its budget every year on the provision and management of its buildings, but many rooms and equipment aren’t used to their full potential. When NHS health planners want to commission a new service, but can’t see available space in their existing facilities, they might consider leasing or building a new property,” added Mark Sorsa-Leslie, co-founder of Beringar.


“However, the statistics show that there is a lot of free space in the NHS. Having the right data could reveal suitable space they already own in that location, saving a significant amount of money, which could be used to improve direct patient care."


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