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OCT 29/2014

How improved NHS procurement can result in service improvements

Most staff in nursing jobs understand that they have a key role to play in improving the quality of service the NHS provides, and in enhancing the organisational and working culture of the facilities in which they are employed.

However, many tend to underestimate the impact that non-clinical issues - such as purchasing and procurement - can have on the frontline. As such, it is common for workers to overlook the way in which reduced spending on backroom functions can translate into higher-quality care for patients.

As a result, new research was published this summer that highlighted the potential improvements to be made, while underlining the proactive role that staff can play in helping to ensure that procurement policies can work to everyone's advantage.

How purchasing inconsistencies can cost the NHS
In July 2014, the government unveiled its new NHS Procurement Atlas of Variation, a web tool that offers a trust-by-trust breakdown of spending on common supplies across England. This revealed significant inconsistencies in the prices paid for a wide variety of key items, which is leading to many trusts overspending on commodities that could be acquired more cheaply.

Charting expenditure for 100 items, including surgical gloves, syringes and wipes, the index suggested that around 10.5 per cent of the total amount spent on these vital supplies could be saved if trusts switched to lower prices.

For example, the highest price paid for 100 toilet rolls was £66.72, more than double the lowest figure of £32.78, while one trust paid £31.68 for 100 needles, compared to the £3.95 price found by another organisation for the same items.

The Department of Health calculated that £14 billion is spent annually on hospital goods and services, so trusts should seek to achieve the maximum possible saving - up to £600,000 of their total spend - by paying lower prices on these 100 items.

How nurses can help to put this right
The launch of this tool will play a key role in helping nurses to bring down spending at their hospitals, especially given that it is being expanded to include 500 items before the end of the year.

Further behavioural changes will be encouraged by a new campaign that will soon be launched by the Royal College of Nursing and NHS Supply Chain, which will highlight how better procurement practices can help to protect frontline jobs.

Reported by the Nursing Times and set to launch in January 2015, the project will encourage nurses to find new ways of saving money on the purchasing of gloves, syringes, wipes, incontinence products, cannulae and other key supplies, with advice to be offered by NHS Supply Chain to help achieve this.

Trusts will be encouraged to engage in friendly competition to achieve the biggest savings, with various resources to be launched to make it easier for nurses to understand the impact of their actions. These could include a card that spells out in numbers of nursing jobs the potential savings from getting better deals, as well as colour-coded stickers for use in storerooms to flag up the most expensive items.

It is hoped that the initiative could result in savings of more than £30 million to help improve NHS frontline care and create additional nursing jobs.

Project leader Mandie Sunderland, chief nurse at Pennine Acute Hospitals Trust, said: "This is about all of us taking a little bit of responsibility."

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