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With diminishing budgets and a growing population, the NHS is looking to save money anywhere it can.
For many, the answer is technology, and Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust has deployed an inventory management system in partnership with Ingenica Solutions to keep track of the products ordered and used across its hospitals.
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This has saved money through reduction of over-ordering and freed up more time for clinicians to spend caring for patients.
The need for order
Jackie Pomroy, head of supply chain at NHS South of England Procurement Services, admits that previously the process was like a “supermarket sweep”, with staff taking what they thought they would need for the day from storage cupboards without keeping a record.
There was no guarantee these products would be used, and no way of tracking where they were taken, resulting in stock being re-ordered when the cupboard was empty as opposed to when the stock had been used.
“I knew my supply chain team were as efficient as they could be, but we needed a tool to move things forward,” says Pomroy.
“We needed to move from providing a reactive service to being proactive. We also needed to relieve the clinical staff of the huge amount of interaction they had with suppliers and supply chain management to get them back to the front line, delivering healthcare.”
The trust is responsible for providing goods and services for Portsmouth, Gosport and the surrounding areas of South East Hampshire, looking after more than 650,000 residents across these areas.
Managing the supply chain in this environment is extremely important to allow product visibility, traceability and reduce waste and storage space.
“Your stock value on the shelf is an asset, but what we found was the NHS knew what they bought but didn’t know what they were using, how much they were wasting, how it was used or whether it was being used efficiently,” explains Pomroy.
“We needed to look for a system that was suitable for the whole of the trust.”
Changing the culture
Pomroy explains one of the reasons for choosing Ingenica was its ethos, as the trust wanted a company that could help drive a change in culture as well as deliver new software.
“This was about helping us resolve our issues and putting process around the system, because the system isn’t just a magic wand, it’s about changing the way you work as well,” says Pomroy.
Staff who were taking supplies were thinking about their department’s needs without taking into account other areas of the organisation, and would request more goods without assessing the organisation as a whole or planning ahead.
“We had to change that panic-driven culture to more structured, planned thinking,” Pomroy admits. “It was very much about changing the culture; we had a lot of bad behaviour.”
The Ingenica system allows clear visibility of stock, which not only saves time and money, but also acted as proof of how the trust was currently behaving and why it needed to change.
“Straight away you’ve got clear visibility – you’ve got true evaluation at the touch of a button, any time, any day, so you can see what you’ve got and where it is,” says Pomroy.
Putting standards in place
As the trust began implementing the inventory management system across 27 theatres and 40 supporting locations, other problems began to surface.
Many of the products were from different suppliers using different standards, and some products did not have a unique identifier.
Jackie Pomroy, NHS South of England Procurement Services
A lot of medical products are identified by barcode, but when trying to log all of the products on the new system Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust found 13 different types of barcode, with multiple codes from suppliers, distributors and manufacturers.
“We realised there wasn’t a barcode standard across the NHS, so whilst our system and technology was able to read barcodes and use different standards, the suppliers of the products weren’t necessarily there,” says Pomroy.
“We had some products with some barcodes on not meeting any standard, some products with barcodes on the outer package but not on the inner package, some didn’t have barcodes at all and some had five barcodes on a product.”
The trust worked with Ingenica to engage with suppliers of medical equipment to implement the standards of not-for-profit supply chain standardisation agency GS1.
The transformation process has saved Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust millions of pounds, and now it wants to help other NHS organisations make the same positive steps.
Orders are now reduced, items are monitored and there is data that can be used to justify changes to products and processes.
This improvement of the supply chain has led to cost reductions of around £1.78m on balance sheets and £350,000 on stock, as well as reducing wastage.
Portsmouth offers other NHS trusts across the UK the opportunity to visit Portsmouth or schedule a telephone conference to learn about the benefits it has seen as a result of implementing its supply chain management system.
Read more about NHS IT
“We have open days where a number of trusts come in and we take them on a tour and show them what we’ve done,” says Pomroy. “It’s tidy, it’s organised, it’s structured – it’s not what people are used to and they can’t quite get their heads around how we got to that.”
Portsmouth has also developed a framework for inventory management that can be used for other NHS organisations to help them adopt this technology.
Clinicians are now free to spend more time with patients rather than having to focus on admin.
“We’ve been able to reduce stocks massively, but you need that information to show people rather than a perception,” Pomroy says.
“It’s true information, it’s quality data, it’s visibility of where things are, it’s being able to move things around to where they’re needed but track the finance and budgets behind it.”