How NHS Supply Chain has bolstered resilience with six steps

19 October 2022

NHS Supply Chain has outlined six steps it has taken following the Covid-19 pandemic to bolster resilience.

The organisation – the buying arm of the NHS that manages the sourcing, delivery and supply of healthcare products, services and food for trusts and healthcare organisations – said the pandemic “highlighted the critical need to ensure a resilient supply chain”.

The Covid-19 pandemic brought supply chain resilience to national attention as the government scrambled to procure enough PPE and medical supplies. 

Since then, the NHS has continued to face “significant global challenges” due to ongoing issues stemming from the pandemic, Brexit and Russia’s war in Ukraine, according to a report by the NHS Supply Chain.

NHS Supply Chain aims to negotiate the best deals and value for money on behalf of the NHS. 

“NHS Supply Chain’s experiences through Covid-19 highlighted the critical need to ensure a resilient supply chain to trusts, both through its own delivery networks, as well as upstream through its suppliers’ supply chains,” it said in a report.  

“Supply chain resilience is a critical issue. The impact for a patient of not having the right product in the right place at the right time can be immense.”

These are the steps NHS Supply Chain has taken to mitigate disruption following the pandemic:

1. Established supply chain customer groups

The NHS has established a customer group on supply chain resilience to work with NHS Supply Chain to improve process and communications around supply chain disruptions. 

The group meets fortnightly, and has representatives from across the four regions of the UK. This group focuses on: 

  • Improving communications around supply chain challenges and enhancing communication with trusts regarding impacted products

  • Issuing early warnings of potential supply shortages

  • Strategic pricing discussions with suppliers to mitigate price increases where possible

It has additionally established a working group to address concerns around finding alternative products when they are running short. The group will include clinicians and will discuss the “most critical supply issues” and establish suitable alternative products.

2. Stockpiling 

The NHS said it has “taken on board” the lessons learned from the pandemic and has increased its national stock-holding levels. As of September 2022, the NHS has over 130,000 pallets and over seven weeks’ of stock cover. It has secured additional storage capacity to accommodate these increased stock levels.

3. Implemented recommendations from the Boardman Report 

Following the pandemic, the Cabinet Office commissioned the Boardman Report to review the government’s procurement processes during this period.

The report highlighted the need for the NHS to map its supply chains and prioritise contracts with manufacturers rather than distributors. 

In response, NHS Supply Chain established three key ways to better map its supply chain:

  • Determining the country of origin of manufacture of products, enabling potential supply disruptions to be identified as early as possible

  • Prioritising suppliers’ product categories that form part of the top 80% of sales

  • Implementation of risk-based analysis tools to provide labour standards and modern slavery analysis

These steps mean there is now one source of data for NHS trusts to access this information, ensuring trusts no longer have to ask individual suppliers for this information.

4. Managed national supply disruptions with national bodies

NHS Supply Chain, the Department for Health and Social Care, and NHS have worked collaboratively to manage supply disruptions.  

For example, the bodies worked together on a national route set up for blood collection products. This enabled products to be managed through a single supply chain which streamlined communications and ensured products were prioritised to where they were most needed.

5. Supported NHS Supply Chain’s suppliers

To help suppliers, NHS Supply Chain worked with freight companies, including DHL, and facilitated discussions with suppliers to support them with their transportation needs, such as access to air freight, cheaper shipping costs, and capacity on certain routes.

NHS Supply Chain teams liaised with suppliers to identify potential supply disruptions and work with them to mitigate disruption, including supporting them to find alternative transport routes, suppliers or products.

6. E-procurement

NHS Supply Chain has begun mapping its supply chain through new e-procurement and risk management systems. 

It said this new system will provide greater insight into a supplier’s supply chain and their tier two and three suppliers, allowing it “to better protect the NHS when there are supply chain disruptions”.

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