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Few sectors will be as relied upon by the NHS as the construction industry in the coming years.

The health service spends £10bn annually running its estate, and twice that total could be spent on the 48 new “hospitals” which the government has pledged to build during this decade.

However, among the greatest challenges to the flagship policy are the “huge constraints” currently within the construction sector – according to a senior government official.

Emma-Jane Houghton, commercial lead on the government’s “new hospital programme”, told a conference on Monday that there is limitation in the sector’s “capacity and capability” – particularly in mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineering, facades and manufacturing.

The sector has been hit hard by the pandemic, which has compounded pre-existing workforce and materials shortages.   

The government’s solution to this challenge is to create an “alliance” with the sector to ensure a sustainable market of suppliers is established.

In this way, government officials hope the new hospital programme will help reboot the construction industry and play a part in the wider “levelling up” agenda through increasing jobs and skills.

But the alliance will take time to set up, much to the frustration of several NHS trusts which are eager to start their long-planned redevelopments. It will probably be another year at least until spades go into the ground.

Another post-covid consideration

Single rooms should be the “default” for inpatients in English hospitals as they would improve infection control and patient flow, NHS England and Improvement’s national medical director has said.

Stephen Powis told the Commons health and social care committee that the need to move towards individual rooms was a key consideration in determining the NHS’ capital budget being negotiated with ministers.

The issue is understood to be a key consideration among those trusts designing new hospitals as part of the government’s flagship rebuild programme. And certainly it’s an issue which far more people are paying attention to since a highly contagious virus started spreading like wildfire through communities and hospitals alike.

But, single rooms as “a default”? It would certainly be an appealing option for many patients. But even if we put the obvious funding and staffing barriers aside for a moment, there are social implications to consider too.

As several HSJ commenters pointed out, some patients feel isolated when in their own room and the logistics become significantly more complex for the ward staff. You can check out a constructive debate on the matter in the story’s comment section