NHS hospitals saved £288m in the last financial year by streamlining the procurement of commonly bought items such as toilet roll and temporary shoes.
In it’s latest quarterly report, NHS Improvement said by using a price comparison tool, trusts have been able to compare how much their neighbours paid for commonly purchased items and negotiate the best deals with suppliers.
The price comparison tool has also helped trusts club together on some orders to buy in bulk.
Savings included £824,000 on couch rolls after more than 200 trusts joined together to buy them from one supplier. Elsewhere, 184 trusts saved £104,000 on toilet roll by using one supplier, and 141 trusts did the same to save £164,000 on temporary shoes.
But, the report said trusts continue to throw away £5.6m a year paying too much for rubber gloves. Trusts could pay for 896 knee replacements or 790 hip replacements if they paid minimum price for examination gloves, which vary from £0.65 to £1.84 for a pack of 100, it said.
The report also said if all trusts paid the lowest price for radiology syringes they could save £3.7m, enough to afford an extra 28 ambulances.
Differences in volume or the time of year trusts buy the items may account for the varying prices, according to Neil Hind, procurement lead at Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership.
“We know in Greater Manchester – and it’s the same across the country – that trusts are not paying the same amount for exactly the same products. There may be various reasons for that, it might be that the volumes are higher in one trust or they just went out to the market at the right time,” he told SM last week.
Health minister Steve Barclay said: “As part of putting an extra £20bn a year into the NHS, it’s more important than ever that we ensure money is effectively spent and harness new technology to identify where high prices are being paid and challenge this.
“Just as retail customers often use price comparison sites, we are using similar principles within the NHS to identify where trusts are paying more than others and using comparative data to drive down procurement costs.”
The update comes a month after NHS Supply Chain finalised the last of a raft new national contracts aimed at centralising and streamlining the buying of everyday items for the health service.
The £730m logistics contract went to Unipart Logistics and was the biggest of the 13 contracts, which the government claims will generate savings of £2.4bn over five years as part of a new supply chain operating model.
Separately, hospitals in the United States are spending billions more than they need to on supply chain expenses, a report claimed.
A study of 2,300 US hospitals by consultancy firm Navigant found if all were as efficient in their supply chain spend as the top 25% surveyed, $25.4bn annually could be saved on supply chain products and related operations, processes and procedures.
This was a 10% rise from last year’s analysis, meaning that supply chain efficiency in the US healthcare system had worsened.
The potential savings work out to $11m per hospital per year, a 17.7% reduction in supply chain spend and equivalent to employing 160 nurses, 42 doctors or two outpatient surgery centres.
Rob Austin, director at Navigant, said: “Even with ongoing efforts to improve supply chain processes and product utilisation, it’s clear that significant savings opportunities remain for many hospitals and health systems.”
The research suggested that reducing waste was a key factor in spending more efficiently.
“Reducing pricing variation and unnecessary use of drugs and products continue to be areas of focus for hospitals to safely reduce supply costs,” it said.
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