40,000 Homes for Medics and Staff ‘could be built on spare NHS land’

Leaders call on government to create £10bn fund to revive the tradition of the health service providing homes for its staff.

40,000 Homes for Medics and Staff ‘could be built on spare NHS land’
The NHS has found it hard to hire and retain nurses and other key hospital staff because the high cost of local housing means many travel long distances. Photograph: Medic Image/Getty Images/Universal Images Group

The NHS should release its large reserves of spare land to create up to 40,000 new homes for doctors, nurses and other key staff who are being affected by a serious housing shortage, health service leaders say.

Modern versions of nurses’ homes, once a common feature of NHS hospitals, would be built under the proposals by the NHS Confederation, which represents 560 health service organisations.

Niall Dickson, the confederation’s chief executive, has called on the government to create a new £10bn NHS Homes Fund to revive the tradition of the health service providing homes for its staff, to tackle the recruitment problems blighting some areas of the NHS.

“There was a time when there were nurses’ homes all over the country but they all fell into disuse and were sold off from the 1960s onwards,” Dickson told the Observer. “We believe there is a case for new-style homes for NHS staff, particularly where the cost of housing is very high, which leads to staff not wanting to work in these places because they can’t find proper accommodation or have to travel long distances.”

A large amount of NHS land is unused, according to a review of NHS property published in March by Sir Robert Naylor, the former chief executive of University College London Hospitals. His report suggested that unlocking the land for private development would create space for up to 40,000 homes. Instead, Dickson suggests the land could be used for building affordable homes for NHS staff. “Indeed, there may well be scope for building affordable housing for the local community more generally,” he added.

The Naylor review said the spare land, worth about £2.7bn, remains unused because there is no incentive for NHS bodies to release the land for development. But the NHS Confederation believes that by providing seed money from the NHS Homes Fund, which the confederation estimates would need to be about £10bn, the land could be released more easily and the money retained by the relevant NHS trusts for other developments.

Its proposal is at odds with the government’s position on the Naylor review. Theresa May told Andrew Neil during an election interview that she backed the Naylor report’s proposals but this stance led to suspicion in some quarters – Dr Kailash Chand, the former deputy chairman of the British Medical Association, called it “an outline to sell off the NHS”.

“This should not be about selling off the NHS,” Dickson said. “The proceeds from land sales should be ploughed back into the health service. The NHS desperately needs more capital.”

The NHS is finding it increasingly difficult to hire and retain staff. More than 15% of registered nursing jobs are unfilled, and the number of nurse vacancies has nearly doubled in the last three years from 6% in 2013 to 11.1% in 2016. There are also severe shortages of psychiatrists, mental health nurses and family doctors. One in five GP practices has given up searching for new family doctors, with 12% of positions vacant.

“There are certain kinds of staff where we have a real difficulty trying to recruit and there’s no doubt that if you were able to offer accommodation it would make a post a lot more attractive,” Dickson said. “If you ask people running hospitals in London, large numbers of their staff don’t live locally any more and have to travel significant distances.” Offering accommodation with a permanent full-time role could also attract staff who might otherwise be tempted to become agency nurses or locum doctors, Dickson said.

Not all hospital accommodation has disappeared. The A2Dominion housing group offers low-cost flats on-site at hospitals around the country for NHS staff and key workers. A two-bedroom flat at Charing Cross hospital in Hammersmith, west London, was available for £497 a month last week. Market rates in the area are about three times higher.

Yet where there is accommodation much has been sold for redevelopment because the cost of maintenance is too dear. Many older properties require renovation, and it is cheaper to sell rather than divert funds from the healthcare budget. Dickson still believes that for junior doctors, who often move from hospital to hospital, and nurses and other staff who are recent arrivals, the option of on-site accommodation would be very popular. “With imagination, you can create the right tenancy agreements to match the needs of the individual job,” he said.

Source: The Observer