Controlling the cost of water purification

Controlling the cost of water purification

Cost control while maximising value are critical factors for every hospital department. This ranges from the simplest of purchases, to the most complex surgical systems and, crucially, includes the procurement of key utilities on which every Trust depends.

Utilities include electricity, gas and water. Although there has for many years been a focus on saving energy costs there has not always been the same emphasis on reducing the cost of water.

According to the latest NHS Estates Returns, almost 40 million cubic metres of water are used each year by the NHS in England alone. Although potable water direct from mains supplies accounts for the largest proportion of this usage, a significant volume of water is treated or purified for use in applications that range from boiler and steam feed to decontamination services, endoscope reprocessing, laboratories and renal dialysis.

Estates and Facilities Managers that are responsible for managing water supplies are under pressure to control and, wherever possible, reduce the operating costs of existing water purification systems; additionally, where new systems are required, to find solutions that deliver the best long-term value.

Although each water purification system will normally be custom engineered, most will include common components. Typically, there will be a series of reverse osmosis (RO) membranes with a combination of particulate and carbon filters, softeners and organic scavengers, UV irradiation or heat sanitisation devices, purified and break water tanks and point-of-use or ring-main pipework.

Regardless of the application, the performance, in terms of consistent water quality, and reliability of each system is crucial. This is especially true for services such as decontamination or renal dialysis, where problems with water purification systems can have a direct impact on patient care and safety.

Improving operating life
Water purification systems typically have an operating life in excess of ten years. Clearly, as systems age they can become increasingly expensive to maintain, while obsolescence of critical components can affect both reliability, cost and system availability.

This can be a major challenge for hospital departments with limited engineering or maintenance resources. Perhaps the best solution is an outsourced annual maintenance and emergency call-out contract, which can provide predictable costs, system uptime and peace of mind. In many instances, such a contract will be with the original equipment supplier; although it should be noted that not all suppliers are setup to provide such services reliably across the UK.

A contract provides a fixed monthly or quarterly cost. This is generally apportioned to an operating budget (OPEX) and designed to ensure that each water purification system operates reliably, with regular servicing identifying potential problems before they can occur; i.e. preventative maintenance. A key factor is the quality and dependability of the service team, as Michael Davison, Specialist Engineering Manager in the Estates Department at Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals, explains, “There are important advantages of working with the original equipment supplier. In our case, we work with SUEZ Water Purification Systems as they have the technical expertise, knowledge and skilled engineers that ensure our water purification systems are always available; they also provide valuable external resources to our small in-house team, allowing us to focus on other equally critical areas of our operation.”

New systems: your funding options
There will come a time when a new water purification system is required – through obsolescence, changes in requirements or hospital expansion.

Working closely with your preferred supplier is important, as they will be able to help you develop the best specification to meet your current and planned requirements. This should include recommendations on the best equipment options; for example, technologies such as double-pass RO membranes may have a slightly higher capital cost but provide the opportunity to reduce longer term operating costs; these savings can often be considerable, in many cases representing figures that could easily cover the average annual cost of a member of the nursing staff.

Your preferred supplier should also be able to provide guidance on the best funding options:

  • Outright purchase through the CAPEX budget
  • Leasing through your supplier or their recommended finance partner
  • A managed equipment service.

Although each has its advantages and will be determined by the buying policies of the trust, it’s worth noting that the second two options generally offer the greatest flexibility and control of costs – especially if they are linked to effective service plans.

For more information on each option, please follow the links above.

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