Healthcare – Balancing Cost With Efficiency

The healthcare sector is under mounting financial pressure with demand for the NHS services soaring, largely because of the COVID-19 pandemic but also the result of population changes and more patients with chronic and multiple conditions.

This places a considerable burden on funding. And, according to the Health Foundation charity, demands on the health service will only continue to grow.

It says: “Just to keep the NHS providing the level of service it does today will require us to increase spending by an average 3.3% a year for the next 15 years – with slightly bigger increases in the short run to address immediate funding problems.

“This would mean health spending rising faster than national income and would take health spending from 7.3% of national income today to 8.9% of national income by 2033/34.”

Anything that can be done to reduce costs is therefore to be welcomed. One way to achieve this is to extend the life of existing equipment used by healthcare facilities.

Hospitals and other healthcare establishments can ill-afford downtime, so the upkeep of essential HVAC plant is critical. Maintenance also offers ways to save money as a district hospital on the south coast discovered after it suffered a defective air handling unit (AHU).

The hospital faced a choice that had significant financial implications – should it replace or refurbish the faulty unit?

The best course of action was found to be refurbishment which offered several benefits compared with full AHU replacement.

First, the cost savings offered by AHU refurbishment can be substantial. A new system is extremely expensive. Fixing and/or replacing individual components can see it working ‘as new’, at a considerably lower price.

Secondly, keeping any disruption to a minimum is a priority for hospitals. Waiting for a new AHU and then installing it can be a long (around 10 weeks) process whereas upgrading and fixing existing parts in-situ cuts this time in half and avoids total shut down of the system.

Thirdly, ensuring operational efficiency helps reduce energy consumption, potentially saving hundreds of thousands of pounds over time. The replacement of fans, for example, can improve efficiency by well over 30% in some instances.

In the case of the south coast hospital, ECEX refurbished and upgraded the entire AHU, including replacing the:

Another healthcare refurbishment project that ECEX undertook, this time at Brentwood Community Hospital in Shenfield, Essex, saw site maintenance provider Integral calling us in to survey three AHUs suffering from advancing internal corrosion within the humidifier and filter sections.

ECEX carried a detailed technical survey, recommending treatment with non-toxic anti-corrosion paint to arrest the corrosion, then over-skinning the internal flooring, roof and side panelling with new stainless steel sheets. The work was carried out on a rolling basis at times to suit the hospital to avoid interruption to its services.

Following completion, the AHUs were thoroughly cleaned before being returned to service for a greatly extended lease of life.

At the Royal Marsden Hospital in Chelsea, meanwhile, the existing critical fan drive motors were failing. The client also needed to increase air volume due to changes in use in the area served by the AHU.

ECEX surveyed, specified, and installed a new Comefri backward-curved direct-drive fan complete with 11kW fan motor and inverter.

Thanks to the upgrade, the client benefited from higher air volumes, lower maintenance time, and cost savings resulting from the elimination of belt drive, less energy consumption and reduced life cycle costs. The new fan also facilitates rapid change out should there be a future failure (just eight bolts and a quick-release commando connection).

For more information about ECEX’s AHU refurbishment services, for hospitals and other commercial buildings, click here.

But it is not only AHU refurbishment that can benefit healthcare facilities. The York chillers at London’s Royal Marsden cancer hospital have been fitted with ECEX Air Intake Screens to prevent pollen, insects, and other airborne debris from clogging the condenser coils, saving maintenance time and energy as optimum airflow is now being maintained.

Laborious and costly coil cleaning has become a thing of the past with cleaning now as simple as brushing or vacuuming the surface of the screens whenever debris is evident, a task completed in minutes, thus saving time and money.