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ERIC Return Data - How intelligent analysis of NHS estate data allows best use of the estate

October 21, 2020

The annual ERIC return process puts considerable pressure on teams, in terms of data gathering and then compiling the report in a format that is consistent for NHS Digital. Once compiled this information can provide a wealth of intelligence useful to the individual Trust. This article considers some of these additional benefits, and how the ERIC Automated Solution makes the ERIC return data more useful locally.

Estates Returns Information Collection (ERIC) captures information relating to the costs of providing and maintaining the NHS Estate, including buildings, maintaining and equipping hospitals, the provision of services including cleaning, laundry, food and portering, together with the consumption and associated costs of utilities. It doesn’t take too much imagination to see how that once gathered into a uniform structure, this information can be used to inform a multitude of management decisions locally.

So how can the ERIC information be of more use?

Trusts are required to gather a lot of data from across their organisation to complete the return. The aim nationally is understandable, it provides a measure for how various parts of the NHS estate performs in comparison to other parts of the healthcare sector, and in different Trusts across the country. The ERIC return informs national policy, as can be seen in both the Naylor and Carter reports. Here the ERIC data formed a pillar of data about how various parts of the estate were performing. Of course, with an organisation as vast as the NHS, national policy needs to be managed at a local level. Nationally targets can be set, but it is then down to administration and action at Trust level, and below, that will ensure that the NHS nationally can achieve these targets.

To illustrate let us look at an example:

According to the NHS Digital website, the Climate Change act of 2008 imposed a target of an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050, set against a 1990 baseline. This means that Trusts need to have data as to how well they are performing against certain metrics, not only compared to their peers, but across their own estate. The whole sector is a massive provider of services to society broadly. As such, it is a major consumer of energy, as well as other consumables. Therefore, minimising waste, and ensuring that the estate (much of which is dated and energy inefficient) needs attention. How can the ERIC data assist in this area? Well it provides Trust management with information. Not only can Trust boards see how they are performing against key metrics compared to their peers, but they can distil from the data held locally how they are performing across their organisation individually. They can also measure their progress over time, as they gather in a transparent format, year on year data. If areas of the estate seem particularly costly to heat and maintain, within the ERIC data, this may warrant further examination and could then potentially form the basis of any submissions, and local prioritisation, for capital funding for a new build project, repairs and replacement, or for funds to improve building performance. Of course, we all intuitively acknowledge that a Victorian building may not be as carbon efficient as a new build, but facts and figures extracted from ERIC return data will give weight to any such discussions.

Another area of consideration, which could be thornier, is the balance of administrative assets as opposed to clinical. During the Covid19 pandemic many businesses and government organisations have found that flexible working methods, such as homeworking, have been practical even in roles where this was not previously considered so. As ERIC data records the mix of different space types, it can form a basis for a review of how Trusts use their space. Many commentators are pondering whether the pandemic will accelerate a move away from fixed office spaces for staff members in favour of more flexible modes of working. ERIC data can form part of the discussion as management grapple with this issue. But transparency of this information, in a central repository, such as an ERIC reporting tool makes this a practical choice.

All of this sounds good…

But for many Trusts the ERIC data gathering process is a laborious, time-consuming task. Often the data is held in a variety of disparate spreadsheets, relying on the knowledge of the spreadsheet creator for timely maintenance, understanding and interpretation. What is needed is an application that allows users to capture, store and report on ERIC data in a transparent and easy to understand solution. Fortunately, the ERIC Automated Solution is just such an application. It is a Web Application, that has been designed in conjunction with estates and facilities personnel working within NHS Trusts and involved in compiling the answers to ERIC questions, and submitting those responses. It is now available for licencing by Trusts across England. If you would like more information, check out this link.

Vernon Chapman


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