28 March 2002 | Robin Parker
Healthcare purchasers will receive orders of routine items within 48 hours - up to three weeks quicker than at present - following the launch of a nationwide e-ordering system.
LogisticsOnline, an electronic version of the NHS Logistics Authority's 26,000-item product catalogue, has been introduced to 40 healthcare trusts to deliver routine supplies within two days.
The system aims to provide a single source for trusts to purchase routine items by enabling front-line health care workers to place orders.
They previously went through an internal mail system that took an average of 19 days to reach suppliers.
The move follows the collapse earlier this month of a national deal with GE Medical Systems for maintenance of medical equipment, negotiated by the NHS Purchasing and Supply Agency for individual trusts.
The US-based supplier said it could not lower its price for the annual contract because the authority's use of manual ordering and invoicing processes was too costly.
More than 70 trusts were told they would now have to negotiate their own deals, due to start next month.
Barry Mellor, chief executive of the NHS Logistics Authority, said the Internet-based system would give purchasers control over orders.
"Clinicians tailor catalogues to their own needs by masking data irrelevant to their purchasing," he said. "Each department can set up favourites and sub-catalogues with appropriate controls on types of item, value or quality."
Purchasers have full visibility of the progress of orders, which are updated by radio transmission devices at the point of warehouse picking.
The authority aims for 98 per cent stock availability, but when items are out of stock, the system recommends alternatives.
Mellor said the next step is to consider a similar single source for all types of non-stock items in larger consortia or national procurement contracts.
More than £300,000 of orders were placed through the system during six-month pilots at the University of Leicester, North Bristol and North Merseyside Community NHS Trusts.