Battling Budgets & Ageing Estates for Smart FM Tech In the NHS

Episode 14

Facilities Management Podcast


About this episode

Experienced NHS FT Director of Estates and Facilities David Jones talks about the ongoing challenges of managing facilities, budgets, and staff in an environment still coping with the COVID-19 pandemic as well as touching on budgeting battles when introducing connected FM technologies into ageing healthcare environments.


Ryan Condon [Host]: Yeah, so welcome back to Comparesoft Podcast. With me, Ryan, my co-host Charlie, and our podcast organizer, Lauren. Our guest today is Mr David Jones. David is the Director of Estates, Facilities, and Capital Development at the University Hospital Southampton NHS. He’s also a PhD candidate at the University of Southampton. David has worked with well-known companies including G4S, Compass Group and the King’s College London and with several NHS trusts including Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals and the largest NHS trust in the UK, Barts Health. He has also been responsible for over 600 staff at a time and has managed soft FM budgets of over £65 million.

That’s quite an introduction there David.

David Jones: Thank you.

Ryan: And so yeah, following from that introduction and doing a bit of research into the background, you’ve had some quite remarkable work experiences. You’ve held several managerial positions. You’ve also held positions at six different NHS foundation trusts. And could you talk to us about your current role at University Hospital Southampton, what your role entails and what your day-to-day operations look like?

David Jones: Yeah, of course. So I manage a large directorate of the hospital, takes about 10% both from a budgetary perspective and a staffing perspective. So that is from a staffing perspective, I’m managing about 450, 500 staff directly and around about five to six hundred contractors, whether they’re security, cleaning, catering, etc. Budgetary-wise, we’re a £1.2 billion turnover trust. So £120 million a year goes through states, facilities and capital development. That includes my day-to-day, includes obviously the management of soft FM facilities, the cleaning, catering services, security management, porting services, et cetera. All the hard FM services, including the plan maintenance, reactive maintenance across the hospital. as well as the capital development services, which is the designing, planning, and delivery of new capital projects. And that could be ward refurbishments all the way up to delivering a new wing of the hospital with new beds. So anything from a few thousand pounds capital up to the largest one is a 100 million pounds capital projects and anything in between. So yeah, my day today could be anything from being on teams meetings from nine to five. I do back to the floors regularly with my teams as well. And yeah, out there, get out about as much as possible meeting the teams and understand what’s going on the floor. As a director stuck in an office a lot of the time, you sometimes miss what’s going on.

Ryan: Yeah, that’s fantastic that you get out there, you know, and you’re chatting with everyone as well. And when you say like, I think it was up to 100 million pounds, is that sort of a wing? You talked about getting a wing involved and what that would be costing.

David Jones: Yeah, so we’ve recently built what we call in our vertical extension, not exactly the most enigmatic of names unfortunately, but that has five floors, it includes three MRIs, 30 bedded critical care units, five, seven new theatres and the new MRI suite and all told once it’s all complete it’ll be topping £100 million.

Ryan: Wow. And so it doesn’t sound like you ever have a slow day there, you know.

David Jones: No, it would be the occasional one but not very often.

Ryan: Incredible. And I’m right in thinking this, you started in March 2020?

David Jones: Yes, I started a week before we probably went into the COVID pandemic, so most of my induction has been on Teams.

Ryan: Yeah, how was that, starting the role then?

David Jones: It was good. I had previous experience at other trusts as a director, so that didn’t phase me. But when I started, I went very much into the support of Covid delivery across southeast England, so helping NHS estates across the southeast in looking at Nightingale wards, in looking at the use of ventilation systems, oxygen delivery systems, etc. So it was a bit… out of the norm than I was expecting when I first started, but soon then got into the day-to-day running if you like as the first wave started to dissipate.

Ryan: Wow, amazing. And then obviously we had the second and third wave, so I’m guessing it didn’t really die down for a few years after that.

David Jones: It still hasn’t. Everybody seems to think COVID is gone but we still have a number of patients here long term in our critical care beds that have COVID. We still see cases of COVID coming to the hospital on a regular basis. We’re living with it a lot better as we do with flu every year and you know remember that flu unfortunately kills a lot of people every year. I think we’ve just got into the habit of living with COVID but it certainly hasn’t gone. and we’re always on guard just in case it starts to flame up again.

Ryan: The NHS has done some incredible work there with the Nightingale hospitals as well. I’ve seen one down in, down exit away, which is quite incredible going up. Yeah.

David Jones: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, no, well, yeah, no, I have to say the NHS really responded well to that. And I think we don’t always, we got the Thursday clap, I think it was. But soon after we’re out of Covid, the government and the press were back vilifying for this stuff or the other. So, you know, institutional and country memory sometimes isn’t always as long as you’d like it to be. But yeah

Ryan: Yeah, definitely.

Charlie Green [Co-Host]: Hmm. Yeah, well, yeah, like, like Ryan said, we’re super appreciative of the NHS. So yeah, thanks for everything that the NHS does and you do. But yeah, throughout your career, you’ve held various positions that have required facilities management in different forms and in particular, soft FM services. Am I right in suggesting that your time at Crown Catering was your first taste of facility management? And what was the motivation to get into the field?

David Jones: Yeah, so you’re absolutely right and that does go back a few years. So prior to that I was in hotels, so I started my career at 16 in hotels, three and four star hotels. I decided fairly early on to go back to university. I didn’t do OLE levels, I didn’t get very many O levels either when I was at school. And I decided after a stint in hotels to go back and did my H&D and degree. and it was actually after I finished my degree that I looked at what other options there were and found a position within Crown Catering Services in London and it was in the Chartered Institute of Surveyers, Royal Institute Chartered Surveyor, should I say, that I had my first soft FM management role.

Charlie: Oh, yeah. So obviously you’ve had a lot of experience and a really interesting point that we talk about is setting the right culture, especially with an FM. So how’d you go about setting a good facilities management culture? And in particular to your field now, how does this affect patient care and outcomes, especially with so much going on in the NHS and a lot of it’s taken away, a lot of the focus has taken away to like doctors and nurses. So it’d be interesting to hear just how you’re. work affects patient care and outcomes.

David Jones: Absolutely. So I think in terms of setting a good facilities management culture, there’s one simple way which is listen to your experts. As a manager you are there to manage many staff and many services and certainly within my remit currently I manage services which I have had no hands-on experience whatsoever of when you’re looking at estate services, when you’re looking at capital development services. That is not my background. So I have a number of managers that work with me and I have to trust their expertise, listen to their expertise, weigh up the options and make decisions from that. So I think if I decide to become an oligarch as it were and make decisions in absence of, then very soon the culture will be very much there’s no point in talking, the boss doesn’t listen, what’s the point in having a voice, having a conversation. So getting out there, speaking to the team. speaking to whether it’s the gardeners, the engineers, or your managers, having those conversations and listening to those that do their job on a day-to-day basis, because they’re there for me, the absolute experts in this. How it affects patients is a tricky one, because you’re absolutely right, doctors and nurses quite rightly get a lot of applause for the job that they do, and it’s certainly not a job that I could do or would want to do. But I think… The way I’ve always described the hospitals that I’ve worked in is they are effectively a very big hotel of which I run, of which doctors, nurses, allied health professionals all come in to and deliver a service from. So first and foremost, without the facilities, without the cleaning being done, the catering being done, the portering, the service would grind to a halt. And last week on the 21st of June, we had National NHS Estates and Facilities Day, which is a day that we can celebrate exactly that. And we had all of the executive going out to our team, my team, delivering donuts, good prizes and, you know, competitions, etc. And just really bringing up the presence of the states and facilities across the whole of the NHS, because we do quite often go unnoticed. We’re in the back rooms. We’re fixing things, trying to resolve issues. So it doesn’t affect. patients. When that happens though and when things do go wrong it very clearly affects patient health care and whether that’s through the clinicians not being able to do their job because somewhere isn’t clean or the lights are flickering or whatever reason it is all the way to the electrical infrastructure fails and therefore they can’t, nobody can do their job. So every one of my services is absolutely key in continuing of clinical services on site.

Charlie: Wow, that’s some really cool insights. And you’ve kind of touched on what I wanted to go on onto next. We’ve spoken to a number of FM experts on the podcast and a common pain point they bring up is that there is a general feeling of underappreciation, as you’ve said, and a lot of people think that they’re only acknowledged, say when an air conditioning unit goes there and all those issues in the, in the catering supply. Um, so in your opinion, um, how’d you think facility managers should go about driving appreciation for their staff? Um, And also, did you feel this was more of an issue during COVID when, like we’ve touched on, the doctors and nurses, rightfully so, had a lot of attention on them? Um, but yeah, I’d just be really interested to hear your thoughts on that.

David Jones: So yes, for me in terms of driving that appreciation, it’s reminding everybody from both the Chief Exec all the way down as to the importance. So not missing a beat when a press release goes out without appreciating the right people or comments are made at a trust board or a meeting that forget who actually delivered a new building or a service etc and keep constantly people of the service and the excellent service that we deliver. But it all has to be done in the context of the main goal of the business. So whether you’re delivering FM for Google, whether it’s delivering FM for a bank in the city, or whether it’s delivering FM for a hospital, it’s exactly the same. You’ve got the businesses there for a reason, and healthcare is there for treating patients. So anything that we push back on and we remind people on, it’s about how we do it. with helping delivering that care to those patients, to those end customers if you like. And if you start going off on tangents and saying aren’t we great, aren’t we good, but actually not linking it back to why we’re there, then people do turn off very, very quickly.

Ryan: Fascinating, David. I mean, you mentioned there about managing the amount of contractors and staff you have. The FM experts we’ve spoken to, they seem to find a good balance between using, say, software tools, spreadsheets, even pen and paper to manage their activities. What do you think about using software tools in your line of work? Do you think they’re useful, or do you feel like the job can be done with spreadsheets?

David Jones: So for me, software tools are absolutely critical, as long as you set them up correctly and they’re maintained. So it’s great having a CAFM system, like Computer Aided Facilities Management System, for those that aren’t savvy with the acronym. It’s a problem with the NHS. We have many, many acronyms and not all of them align to the corporate world, etc. So yeah, if you’ve got a CAFM system… that has been set up incorrectly or isn’t being fed properly with the right amount of data etc then it’s worthless. It is the whole rubbish in rubbish out analogy. So for me we could not deliver our services without good software tools whether they’re FM services, whether they’re planning services. I was going to use a a company name them, but I won’t, apologies.

Ryan: We’ll have to beat it out, David.

David Jones: What plans are on, et cetera. I think spreadsheets are, they have their use. And I have to say, it seems that I’m doing most of my PhD using spreadsheets at the moment. And they are very versatile. I’m probably much more versatile than anybody probably gives them credit for. But only if you’re an expert in how to use spreadsheets. The benefit of software tools is if they’ve been set up properly and you’ve had that engagement, then they’re set up for you to use. Somebody that is managing an FM team can worry about managing the FM team, not worrying about whether the spreadsheet has got a ditch in it, a code error in it, or whether somebody’s gone in and accidentally wiped weeks and weeks worth of code out of it, etc. It’s there and it’s readily usable. But as I say, it is if it is maintained and set up correctly.

Ryan: That’s fascinating. Have you had an example of if it hasn’t been set up correctly, if it hasn’t been maintained? Have you come across that?

David Jones: Yeah absolutely, so in the trust when I joined we have a CADFIM system, half of the estates team use it, half of them don’t, I use the spreadsheets so I’m not getting a full picture of what I need. So we’re in the process ourselves of actually going back around that and looking at a new information management system that pulls everything, not just from estates but a facilities management side as well, into one system that then I can click a button, have a dashboard understand where all my services are at one point, which at the moment probably takes a couple of days of phoning around different managers asking them to delve into different systems or different spreadsheets, etc. It’s not user-friendly.

Ryan: No, sure. And obviously connecting with that software is you’ve got your technology, your IoT tools, the introduction of smart buildings. What’s your take on interconnected technologies in facilities management? Did that make your job easier? Do you have any issues with them? And where do you see that going in the future?

David Jones: I don’t have enough of it at this moment in time. So in the last year and a half, we have been re-barcoding all of our assets and using straight QR barcodes, but on the back of that embedding RFID passive tags, we want to install RFID around the estate to make audit much easier, to make using our CAFM system much easier as well. For me, if I can install smart readers in every single one of my rooms for things like gas saturations, for things like temperature, humidity, et cetera, I can start to then manage each of my clinical facilities much, much better and give them only what they need. So I’m not cooling rooms down too much and wasting energy, heating them up too much in the winter, et cetera. So I think… In the future they are going to be a lot, make my job a lot easier, make my manager’s jobs a lot easier. It’s how we get retrofitting into very aged estate such as the NHS is going to be the key.

Ryan: And of course, budget implements as well. You know, you’ve mentioned going from barcodes to RFID tags, even that’s quite an upgrade in budget, I’m guessing.

David Jones: Well, thankfully, the embedded RFIDs were only sort of 10p a tag, so it was a small investment. What’s going to come next is actually the gateways, and that’s going to be a much bigger investment. And that’s maybe where we stumble, because NHS has very, very limited funds, and it has to have a very clear, proven clinical benefit and patient outcome benefit before we can invest. So yeah, there needs to be some trials elsewhere to show those benefits. before we can access funds on those.

Ryan: Yeah, fantastic. Well, David, do you have any advice or tips for someone who’s just starting out in the world of facilities management and maintenance? Any words of wisdom to pass on?

David Jones: So I think for me, you know, remember you’re a support service, but you’re vital to any business. So don’t sell yourself short. I think FM managers have got hugely transferable skills. I mean, I say I started off as a chef in hotels, moved up from corporate services, to live in FM to banks and insurance companies. And now I’m running one of the largest hospitals in the country. and that’s only because of the grounding that I had in my earlier career. So FM managers should not show that they sell themselves short. Listen to your customers and clients. They are the end users at the end of the day. So you’ve got to listen to what they’re saying. They might not always be right, but listen to what they’re saying. And engage in your industry and give back. Doing these sorts of things, podcasts, whether it’s conferences or whatever it is. but engage because only by doing that can you make the future FM manager’s lives easier and better than the ride that you guys probably had and I had.

Ryan: Yeah, incredible. I’m sure, you know, people starting out listening to this podcast and finding advice and tips it’s very helpful for them. Well, that’s it, David. Thank you so much for coming on. You know, it’s been great to chat with you. I don’t wanna keep you too much, you know, busy, busy times.

David Jones: No problem at all.

Ryan: Yeah. Well, this podcast will be live on our website, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and it’s actually the first recorded video podcast that will be up on YouTube as well. Yes, so well done for that David, thank you for that.

David Jones: Thanks.

Ryan: Yeah, we’ll be back soon with some more amazing guests like David as well, so bye for now.