Innovative technologies are key to tackling the NHS cash crisis | Jackie Pomroy

Jackie Pomroy

In the midst of unprecedented financial challenges across the NHS, Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust is a cost-savings success story: its ambitious implementation of an inventory management system has generated savings over and above early predictions.

Here Jackie Pomroy, head of supply chain management, explains the difference this type of technology makes to the NHS.

The financial difficulties faced by the health service are undisputed and unless we put significant changes in place, issues are likely to spiral and inevitably affect standards of patient care. 

The NHS is continually being urged to take money-saving measures – to fill only essential staff vacancies, to cut services, reduce wastage, and to increase efficiency savings, along with various other actions all in an attempt to reduce the largest deficit in NHS history.

 This is something that simply cannot be ignored and trusts need to keep much tighter control on their spending. By far the most effective way this can be undertaken is for every hospital in the country to get a grip of its supply chain operations; to understand what products are being used, where, when, and on – or by – whom. Why? Because this will enable hospitals to control and manage the flow of supplies and ultimately help the NHS get its finances into better shape. 

Many hospitals struggle to respond to government initiatives such as the eProcurement Strategy, largely due to outdated procurement systems that do not meet the challenges and demands of today’s modern hospital. Inventory management therefore remains an issue at national level.  

We are all at different levels of supply chain maturity, and a general lack of reliable data in many trusts means that it is incredibly difficult to have a true understanding of product ordering and usage. 

Over the years this has created inefficiencies and wastage in terms of time, money and processes, on a huge scale. For example the following scenarios probably ring bells in every trust: staff squirrelling away stock in their desk drawers; a ‘supermarket sweep’ of stock shelves; a discovery of expired stock; staff ordering their own individual supplies; and so it continues. 

Like many trusts, we are challenged financially too, and yes, we have experienced all of the events above. 

From retailers to manufacturers, the importance of the supply chain and inventory management to operations and profitability is significant, and this is gradually being translated to the NHS. Today at Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust we have a number of work streams designed to help take out the cost. Inventory management, largely used in the commercial world, is a mechanism to help us cut spend so we don’t have to reduce our staff costs as much. 

We recognised that our old flawed approach to managing inventory was a highly manual process, so we took innovative steps to overcome these limitations by implementing the first GS1 certified inventory management solution in the healthcare sector (from Ingenica Solutions). Everything from patient ID bracelets and bandages, to A4 paper and medical implants, is now trackable. 

With trusts spending millions on supplies every year, innovative technology is one of the key drivers to help tackle the ever-growing financial squeeze. The right technology facilitates progress for hospitals and the entire NHS – inventory management is proving to be the most important element to improve the healthcare supply chain. 

In our case, inventory management has enabled us to take great strides in revolutionising the way we spend our money and achieve measurable gains. It has provided us with greater visibility, control and better management information. 

What this all means is that data intelligence is now at our fingertips, which has led to significant cost-savings, a reduction in wastage, and improved efficiencies.  

As the first trust-wide implementation of a single inventory management solution in the UK, Portsmouth NHS Trust has reached a point that no other has yet accomplished. We were also recently awarded shortlist status in two industry awards for our progress in this area, in partnership with Ingencia Solutions.

It’s encouraging to gain recognition for all the hard work that has been channelled into the project, and it also acknowledges the importance this technology has on our healthcare industry.

Innovative technology is indeed a key driver to help tackle the NHS financial crisis, and also key to break the cycle of inefficient supply chains. 

Jackie Pomroy is head of supply chain management at Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust. Follow the trust on Twitter @QAHospitalNews

You can find out more about Portsmouth’s inventory management system in a new case study.

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