Partner, Business & Platform Solutions
Atos UK & Ireland
‘Right People, Right Place, Right Equipment’ Saves Lives
Within the NHS, supply chain management has been a relatively a niche concept
Yet across the healthcare system, clinical and non-clinical teams use systems and processes to order supplies, carry out health checks, dispense medications, perform operations, sterilise instruments, identify medical devices, and the list goes on. Collectively this forms a supply chain. And today, the way that supply chain is managed is fast evolving: partly because of digital technologies, and partly because of the NHS’ new strategic focus.
Traditionally, the task of managing the supply chain was seen as a ‘backoffice’ function with the main objective of reducing costs. Today, while cost reduction is still important, the key priority – the raison d’être of the supply chain – is better patient care. And as Trusts and others embrace digital, a more integrated, strategically driven, better-connected supply chain becomes possible.
New standards have been mandated
Modern supply chain management best practices are key. Catalogue management (a procurement industry best practice) speeds up supply significantly. Leaner inventory management not only increases efficiency but can also release physical space (such as a new facility for families recently created at one Trust by reducing its storage requirements). Better use of transparent, common, accurate data is also essential, together with supply chain analytics, for example to better understand, target and predict spend, supply and demand. Modern supply and contract management techniques leverage more innovation and responsiveness from suppliers. And digital information exchange between Trusts and suppliers is vital to underpin the local, regional and national collaboration that the Carter report says is so vital.
One challenge has been the lack of a common NHS language for identifying patients, clinicians, suppliers, products, locations, assets and documents. That’s where GS1 and PEPPOL come in. GS1 is a set of global standards and barcodes for the clear and unique identification of People, Places and Products. PEPPOL (Pan European Public Procurement Online) is a set of messaging standards for the electronic exchange of procurement-related documents. Both have been mandated by the Department of Health for use throughout the healthcare sector by 2020, with six Trusts chosen as demonstrator sites (some of whom Atos has been supporting). This will help NHS Trusts to improve patient outcomes, reduce errors and increase efficiency by having a standard way to identify and track equipment, patients, medication and locations on each patient’s journey.
The supply chain is breaking new ground
So much is possible with the emergence of new standards and technologies. In response, Trusts need to implement a robust digital supply chain, all underpinned by GS1 and PEPPOL. There is the risk that some Trusts may be approaching this piecemeal. What’s needed is a clear unifying vision and digital supply chain strategy, with a sufficiently robust roadmap to implementation and the programme management capabilities to deliver it. This is ground-breaking in a few ways. Firstly, the concept of an integrated digital roadmap and operating model is still relatively new, enabling the fundamental digital transformation that is essential.
Secondly, digital supply chain management is shifting its positioning within Trusts. In the past, it may have been viewed as secondary in comparison to electronic patient records and administration. This is changing, with an awareness that the technology needs to evolve away from finance-centric systems (focusing on financial control, accountability and audit) towards people-centric technology. Supply chain management can provide an overview of contract management across the organisation, moving it out from finance into a strategy function and integrating it with the broader digital strategy piece. There are also moves to position supply chain management as a commercial function alongside other revenue-generating activities, such as negotiating franchises and supporting bids to CCGs. Critically, the new standards and digital enablement will produce a rich set of new integrated data that can be used to better inform clinical and management decision-making.
A new approach
And as in many other sectors, the power of digital and the changing of supply chain management is affecting the role and function of supply chain professionals within organisations. Skillsets need to adjust; professionals need to upskill away from just cost reduction towards creating better long-term relationships with suppliers, driving innovation and performance, and becoming internal advisors. In Scotland, supply chain management has already been evolved to be more closely aligned with patient pathways to reduce risk and improve performance. Supply chain management is an important vanguard for efficiency and improvement of patient outcomes across the health and social care system. If the supply chain is digitally enabled, connected and efficient, then frontline care and patient outcomes are significantly impacted and improved.