The NHS has been urged to use GS1 coding on more items to support a shift towards e-procurement in the latest attempt to improve buying in the health service.
Today, the Department of Health issued guidance on the 'first steps' that trusts can take to improve procurement and stock management, and issued a call for evidence on other measures that could be taken. A new procurement strategy is promised for later in the year.
The moves follow a National Audit Office report last year that found the NHS was not using its potential buying power to best advantage, and that trusts were carrying different stocks and paying different prices for them.
The NAO illustrated its point with reference to surgical gloves, saying that one hospital bought 177 different types, while another trust bought just 13.
The NAO report, and a subsequent investigation by the Commons’ public accounts committee, concluded that there was a need to reduce the variation in stock carried by trusts, and to improve their procurement and stock management systems.
The latest DH guidance says the first areas to focus on are making use of levers for change, improving transparency and data management and setting NHS standards for procurement.
It also wants better clinical engagement to reduce the demand for variable supplies, improved collaboration between trusts, and improved engagement with suppliers.
Under the transparency and data management heading, the DH says that trusts should use Contracts Finder, the government’s single portal for tender and contract information for contracts valued at more than £10,000.
It says trusts should share information about what they pay for supplies, and benchmark their performance. It also says that “NHS trusts are behind the curve” when it comes to e-procurement systems and these should be a priority for investment.
To support the introduction of e-procurement systems, the report says trusts should move to GS1 coding and invest in barcode readers so they can scan goods when they arrive and they are used.
Health minister Simon Burns said waste was “unacceptable when we know there are simple solutions. That is why the NHS needs to buy smarter and to get the best value for the taxpayer for every penny spent.”
The DH estimates that £1.2 billion could be saved over the next four years, if the NHS managed to adopt good practice everywhere.
© 2012 EHealth Media.
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