The Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust is trialling the Scan4Safety initiative
The Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust is trialling the Scan4Safety initiative

Automation offers ‘holy grail’ for NHS procurement

Barcoding technology has enabled the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust (RCHT) to establish automatic reordering, releasing 1,300 hours of clinician time.

Stavros Ballas, procurement inventory manager at RCHT, told SM how implementing a barcoding system had helped the trust to tackle inventory management issues including over-ordering of stock and product wastage.

In 2016 the trust was chosen as one of six demonstrator sites by the Department of Health and Social Care to trial the ‘Scan4Safety' initiative.

As part of the programme, patients wear wristbands displaying barcodes with their unique patient number which can be scanned by clinicians using technology from Ingenica Solutions.

Clinicians will also scan barcodes positioned in specific locations, such as the operating theatre, and barcodes on all intrusive items used, such as implants or catheters, so all patient information can be tracked.

Ballas said: “By scanning these products, we get two benefits. Firstly we know exactly what equipment we used for a patient. Secondly when items are scanned at the point of use, we can automatically reorder the product.”

Prior to launching the trial, Ballas said over-ordering of stock was one of the largest issues faced as the task was often left to busy clinicians.

“We found that all our stock rooms were overstocked. Technology changes all the time and stock which was piled up during the year could quickly become obsolete,” he said.

“We were also over-ordering because clinicians were doing the job which obviously isn’t their main role. They weren't ordering what they needed for one or two weeks, they were overstocking.”

Ballas said in the cardiac catheterisation laboratory alone, Scan4Safety has been able to release 1,300 hours back to clinicians which would otherwise have been spent re-ordering supplies.

James Leaver, CPO of RCHT, told SM that by establishing pre-agreed levels with suppliers, the buying team can be bypassed to approve orders.

“Because everything's been pre-agreed, the order can go out with no buyer intervention. With some of our suppliers, it would go straight through the PEPPOL [Pan-European Public Procurement On Line standards] exchange, and drop straight into the picking line with no human intervention at their end either.”

Leaver added that some suppliers were also able to electronically invoice for the products ordered and be paid by the trust with no human intervention from the point of use onwards.

“In my position this is really the holy grail because what we're beginning to do now is repoint our buyers, who were doing less-value added tasks such as generating and processing purchase orders, to actually buying.

“Resources in our sector are so scarce that being able to point the resources that you've got strategically to the areas you need is a massive win. The more that we can automate no-value-added tasks in procurement, the better.”

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