Frequently asked questions

Your questions answered

Is a SEP the same as a Private Finance Initiative (PFI)?

No, SEPs are 50:50 joint venture businesses set up to facilitate a programme of transformational activities including refurbishment, equipment and consultancy work, as well as new and replacement facilities. Rather than being a purely contractual arrangement, a SEP is a two-way partnership, which exists as long as both parties are working together. More than delivering new buildings, it’s about the public and private sector working together over the long term and maximising the potential of the NHS estate. 

As a non–exclusive relationship, SEPs also offer NHS Trusts complete flexibility, without being tied to a single contractor, FM or service provider. By enabling different development and funding structures for each and every project, this means the best value for money solution that meets the client brief is possible every time.

Why do NHS Trusts need a strategic estates partner? Could they not undertake this work themselves?

The Trust is undertaking the work in partnership with the private sector, providing additional capacity and capability to accelerate the pace of positive change to the estate, whilst reducing the Trust’s risk. SEPs also provide the opportunity to bring in outside investment for new developments and facilities, allowing NHS money to stay ring-fenced for improvements to patient care and front-line services.

Is this about the NHS privatising its estates services?

No, SEPs allow NHS Trusts to remain in control of their estate and their services. Instead they’re about using the private sector’s skills and resources to the best advantage of the Trust and most importantly, its patients, staff and stakeholders.

What’s important to look for in a partner?

It’s important to choose the right partner who can act as an effective ‘integrator’. Someone who understands you as a Trust, the healthcare market you’re operating in and the challenges you face. By bringing relevant experience into the Trust, the right partner can open up a wider range of value for money solutions whilst the Trust retains control. This will allow you to achieve the best outcomes and use your partner’s knowledge and experience of delivery to identify the right solutions.

Are SEPs purely about estates improvements?

For many Trusts, the question of a partner is beyond estates and does depend on the capacity and capability of the Trust’s own team. The work of the SEP should be about responding to the Trust’s clinical strategy and should include input from outside of estates – the Trust board, clinical and finance teams, as well as other partner organisations. This supports collaborative working in increasingly integrated and complex health systems.

Can any NHS Trust set up a SEP?

Yes, although there is a separate approvals process required for NHS Trusts that don’t have Foundation Trusts status. NHS Improvement is supportive of Trusts exploring “joint ventures and novel financing for facilities and/or technology” and the process has already been followed by other Trusts. Early engagement is key and it is possible for Trusts to run the external approvals process in parallel with the procurement.

How do Trusts set up a SEP and how long does it take?

An OJEU compliant procurement is required to set up a SEP and this can as little as six months from issue of PQQ.

How can a SEP support development of new models of care?

Trusts can choose to widen their procurement to incorporate other partners in their area in order to support the delivery of new models of care and local sustainability and transformation plans.