Five reasons why the NHS is getting serious about supply chains

By Nadine Carey-Whitehead, Genesis Automation 

Nadine Carey-Whitehead, Genesis Automation

Nadine Carey-Whitehead, Genesis Automation

It’s over 18 months since the Department of Health announced its £12m Scan4Safety initiative in six NHS Trusts. Designed to test how barcoding can help acute Trusts track and trace medical supplies, from the point of receipt to the patient, Scan4Safety was expected to deliver savings of £800 million over seven years. A year after tests began at Royal Cornwall, Salisbury, Plymouth, Leeds and Derby, North Tees and Hartlepool that estimation was increased to £1 billion.

The scale of these potential savings – not to mention improvements in patient safety – is convincing the government to roll out Scan4Safety to more hospitals around the country. Funding will be made available, but in the meantime many Trusts are sufficiently convinced about the benefits to press ahead with their own investments.

As a company whose technology was selected to help three of the six pilot sites implement Scan4Safety, we know this story is gathering momentum. We are now working with 23 NHS sites, and can see five key ways in which they are seeking to benefit from optimising their supply chains.

  1. Tackling waste

To understand why there is so much demand, think about the level of waste in the NHS. The Carter Review in 2016 estimated that £1bn is wasted on procurement, with – just as an example – prices paid for hip replacements varying from £788 in some hospitals to nearly £1,600 in others. A more efficient approach to buying drugs – including cutting back on wasted stock – could save another £1bn, according to the review.

Saving money by reducing waste is probably the biggest reason the NHS wants to overhaul supply chain management. But there are other reasons why this issue is catching the attention of forward-thinking trusts.

  1. Delivering accurate patient-level costing

With NHS Improvement’s proposals for mandating patient-level costings for the acute sector from 2018/19 out for consultation, patient-level costing has moved high up the agenda. Many hospitals already report it, however there are wide variations in accuracy. If hospitals aren’t tracking items being used on patients during their stay, how can they say what the total cost of the patient stay was with any accuracy? By contrast, point of care barcoding technology has the potential to scan all aspects of patient care including surgical equipment, medicines, linen and food from the moment the patient enters the hospital to when they leave, enabling accurate patient and procedure-level costing. This in turn carries huge opportunities for savings and efficiencies.

  1. Cutting variation in care

Variation in care – another NHS bugbear – is another focus of attention. Trusts are seeing that if they can clearly see inventory flowing through the system, with insight into which patients are receiving which procedures, drugs or implants (for example) it’s possible to calculate costs to the level of an individual patient, procedure, or doctor. These can then be compared, for instance, between a Trust’s hospital sites, to improve efficiencies and iron out disparities in levels and costs of care.

  1. Boosting safety and compliance

Safety and compliance is another area where major gains can be made. As the PIP breast implant scandal of 2012 showed, an inability to trace patients who have received faulty implants can have dangerous consequences. Barcode scanning – of the supplies and the patient – means everything can be tracked and traced if a recall is necessary. The PIP scandal was an extreme case, but implants or drugs that have gone out of date can be avoided with a proper streamlining of stock management.

  1. Automating labour-intensive tasks

And then there are savings that can be gained by freeing clinical staff from manual tasks that can be automated. For example, an estimated 4,000 nursing hours are spent each year on manual supply chain duties – such as logging stock. Automating this process can deliver those hours back into hands-on patient care.

So, next time you hear the words supply chain management, don’t glaze over. This is a development with real potential to balance the equation of delivering better value, while boosting productivity and safety.



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