Pushing procurement boundaries with inventory management technology

Stavros Ballas, procurement inventory manager at Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust, writes about the benefits of a good inventory management system.

In 2016 Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust (RCHT) was chosen as one of the Department of Health’s Scan4Safety demonstrator sites for the adoption of GS1 and PEPPOL standards; as one of just six selected to lead the project, we’ve worked hard to implement standards, and barcodes to improve operational efficiency and patient safety.

The programme itself has grown in three years, and the benefits already realised surpassed our initial expectations, most notably in relation to the time released for clinicians to patient care, reduced inventory and ongoing operational efficiencies. In fact, the full programme roll-out across the NHS is reported to have the potential to generate more than £1 billion of benefits in just seven years.

Our involvement in this project means we have been in a position to push procurement boundaries; we’ve delivered more than just value for money, which is often viewed as the first benefit, we have in conjunction achieved exceptional patient care and quality outcomes.

Life before this project presented a number of supply chain and procurement related challenges. There was a legacy of failed IMS (inventory management system) implementations, and a lack of understanding surrounding stock control. The existing systems used for managing inventory had great room for improvement, and had led to issues such as overstocking, poor stock availability, unnecessary wastage, and clinicians involved in stock management duties.

My colleague James Leaver, chief procurement officer explained: “Our first step in supporting the Scan4Safety programme was to get control of inventory. The systems at the Trust were outdated and unsuitable for meeting our challenges and demands; this led to significant problems. Inventory management processes were often manual and hand-written, which was time-consuming, could lead to inaccuracies and made the entire process complicated and unsustainable.”

We implemented Ingenica Solutions 360 IM, the first GS1 certified solution for inventory management in healthcare, for the inventory management element of the Scan4Safety programme. This solution is configurable across multiple areas with different processes, allowing the use of just one solution to achieve procurement and supply chain excellence across the entire trust, which is a major advancement for us.

By using innovative technology in this way, we can manage products across all theatre, ward and other high dependency areas in a consistent manner in all three locations at the Trust; Truro, Penzance and Hayle.

Scan4Safety is an ambitious programme, and hence the technology selected needed to be the best. Ingenica Solutions 360 IM also provides a 360 degree view of cost drivers, which means we are now able to track and trace products, people and equipment.

Through having a 360 degree view of cost drivers and using unique identification numbers, we can identify every person, product and place ensuring staff can match the right patient, to the right product, in the right place from delivery of an order to point of care.

This technology enables the automation of the replenishment process, improving how clinicians, procurement and finance staff work together to choose products and services that are cost effective in the short and long term, and offer the best outcome for patients. This is something that our team is dedicated to as Leaver explained: ”Scanning products at the point of care and having a system that automatically orders the replacement has allowed us to embark on a journey of automating transactional processes in procurement. We are beginning to see full end to end purchase-to-pay activity being automated with no human intervention. In time, this will allow us to point our human resource to more value added activity.”

The new system has been brilliant for us, we can scan products to the patient and in the case of a product recall we can see instantly which patients have been affected. In the past we would have used a lot of clinical time to extract this information. Now that we have adopted the new system we can scan products to the patient, and the product is automatically re-ordered. This has released a large amount of clinical time back to patient care, which means we can see extra patients throughout the day.

For instance, in Cardiac Catheterisation alone, we have released some 1,300 hours annually back to the clinicians, which in turn goes back to the care of the patients. In addition to releasing time back to care, by the end of the implementation we aim to deliver significant savings by eliminating wastage, more accurately quantifying procedure costs and improving space utilisation. Finally we have started to track waste and our expectation is to see a reduction of around 50% over three years.

We believe that our trust surpasses retail and other industries in some areas such as product recall; and the most important aspect of this project is the impact on patient care, as Leaver said: “If a medical technology company recalls a product range, we can now identify every patient who may have had that product implanted in seconds. Previously, this task would have been manual and taken hours, days or even weeks to complete.  Also where the system is live, we have over 99% stock availability at the point of care, which this mitigates the risk of procedures being cancelled due to product unavailability.”

In recognition of our success so far, we have also been presented a number of prestigious industry awards for our implementation of Ingenica Solutions 360 IM. We have certainly learnt a vast amount along the way, and we continue to learn as our journey develops. Sharing this learning with other Trusts is very important to us. We take great pride in demonstrating and driving improved standards across the NHS, using our competitive advantage to help other trusts achieve procurement and supply chain excellence; we have captured learning that we hope will influence progress in future procurement projects.


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