The challenge of adapting properties for the use of healthcare technology

read time: 4 mins

The health and care sector has been very much at the forefront of the push to develop and use technology to improve the delivery of, payment for, and/or consumption of services. This goes beyond IT software, apps or other tools and often extends to physical equipment used to improve the delivery of care and generate efficiencies. Use of robots to assist with medical procedures or social interactions, use of sensors and communication equipment to help ensure people can safely remain in their own homes, machines used to dispense prescriptions or 3D printers to print medical equipment or even parts of the human body are all increasingly becoming the norm in the sector.

Such progress does, however, present a problem for the architecture and construction of buildings and premises used to deliver care. In particular the introduction of new technology into a building raises a number of important considerations that owners, landlords and occupiers of healthcare property should address. 

Do the changes require planning permission?

Although the installation of equipment might be considered essential to the operation and competitiveness of your business, it should be noted that any works which materially affect the external appearance of a building, some structural alterations or the introduction of signage (particularly where illuminated) may all mean planning, building regulations and/or advertisement consents are required. For example the installation of a pharmacy dispensing robot in the shopfront is almost certainly going to require planning approval and advertisement approval if accompanied with an illuminated sign. This needs to be factored into timings for delivery of the project, and the cost of obtaining these approvals and potentially appointing a planning consultant should also be considered. If you are a tenant of your premises then the landlord is likely to want to approve and have input into the planning process as building owner.

If you are a tenant has the landlord consented to the installation of the equipment?

Sometimes bringing an item of equipment into the premises and installing it may not be automatically viewed as a change to the bricks and mortar of building or the premises itself. However, if by doing so alterations need to be made to the services, or walls, doors or windows need to be removed or altered or extra strain placed on the floor or ceiling, then undoubtedly the lease will dictate landlord approval will be required. The landlord will require full details of what is proposed and the impact on services and the structural integrity of the building. Some equipment (particularly in laboratories) is very heavy and works could be required to strengthen joists or ceilings. Also the landlord will want to understand how the works will be carried out and that the equipment will be removed and the areas affected will be made good at the end of the lease. Engaging with landlords at an early stage is important.

The equipment may also impact on the insurance policy for the building, so consulting your insurer (or asking the landlord to do so) is critical and they may also have requirements to be met. There could be an increased security risk or the required changes to the building may impact on the cover available.

Does your lease need to be varied?

Often the introduction of new equipment into existing space means the area of the premises you are permitted to use under the lease needs to be extended into additional areas to accommodate it. It is therefore possible that an additional lease needs to be granted of the additional space used or the lease needs to be varied to include suitable rights to both install the equipment or use additional areas in connection with its operation and future maintenance and servicing. It is important that tenants do not encroach on areas outside their demise and that if this happens landlords ensure such arrangements are properly documented. We have recently seen a situation where a tenant wanted to install a pharmacy robot but on reviewing the plans it became apparent that the tenant wanted to install the equipment in the common parts, thereby blocking part of the main entrance to the GP surgery.

What about your lender?

If your property is charged to a lender or if the landlord has a mortgage then the lender will have an interest in the proposed works and will want to know they will be executed properly and that ultimately the value and integrity of its security is not adversely affected. This might mean the lender insisting on a monitoring surveyor being appointed to report to the bank.

Further information

We have recently dealt with a number of matters for clients where technology has been introduced into buildings and where freeholder or landlord approval has been required. We are therefore very aware of the issues faced by all stakeholders and can help the parties navigate these smoothly. If you are thinking about introducing equipment into your premises or if a tenant has approached you with a proposal, please do get in touch for a discussion and we would be happy to assist.

For more information on this article, please contact Ben Tarrant.

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