First steps towards patient safety and reduced costs in operating theatres and hospitals

nurses and doctors
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Chris Norman, the VP of Healthcare at Elcom highlights some of the issues hospitals and operating theatres are having with increasing patient safety and cutting costs

Healthcare organisations are facing a myriad of issues, each of which brings its own challenges and requires an appropriate response. Just some of the issues hospitals and operating theatres are having with increasing patient safety and cutting costs include:

Nurses being distracted from care

A lot of the work that nurses do is behind the scenes, showing a shift in workload. Nursing staff spend more than half of their time on non-patient-facing duties, such as the procurement process, managing inventory or completing documentation. Nurses are highly trained medical professionals who can contribute a lot to the quality of care that a patient receives and patient safety, in addition to being a major part of how they feel about their stay in a hospital. By completing non-patient-facing tasks, hospitals must either invest further in more nurses to make up for the workload or suffer from a fall in the effectiveness of their care.

Limited resources in the NHS

One of the most fundamental issues that the NHS has had to deal with in recent years is a cut in funding. Budgets are increasingly tight, with the last twenty years seeing a major recession, austerity, a pandemic and now a significant rise in the rate of inflation, with little sign of resource availability increasing in the near future. Procurement managers and other senior members of staff throughout the NHS are focusing on working more efficiently within their budgets, and the increase in competition from private organisations could make that more difficult in the coming years.

Effective administration is one of the most important parts of healthcare and patient safety, with effective planning and preparation often making the difference between effective care and poor outcomes. With 42 new integrated care boards looking to work towards building effective systems and infrastructure, it is important to understand what are the biggest challenges for the newly 42 ICBs.

New structures for an integrated care system

The introduction of Integrated Care Boards and Integrated Care Systems in the summer of 2022 meant that senior management had a whole new structure of healthcare bodies to deal with. A ‘power struggle’ between the NHS and the local authorities would destroy the value of having an integrated care system. Hospitals should no longer work independently, and local authorities should be fully integrated at all levels of an ICS. Improving collaboration and coordination with the local community means that the ICB responds to major local events more effectively and people are happier with the way healthcare services integrate with the region.

Advancing data in the NHS

Whilst not strictly a challenge in itself, the role of data in modern organisations is one that poses a few questions for large organisations such as the NHS. In a recent webinar GS1 and SWLPP (South West London Procurement Partnership) discussed the growing role of data and inventory technology in the healthcare system, as effective implementation could help hospitals to take a significant leap forward in their standards. Balancing traditional methods with innovative data science in the right way establishes whether the NHS can take a leap forward in efficiency in the data age.

Scan4Safety is an initiative led by the DHSC with a focus on improving efficiency and productivity in medical supply chains. By using GS1 barcodes throughout the facilities, management knew all about the amount of stock that the hospitals had, where the stock was and the location of patients in the hospital that needed this support. Inventory management systems (IMS) such as the “pay-and-replace” system that replaces any used resources mean that there is less need for manual intervention in procurement, helping nurses back to the point of care and improving patient-safety outcomes.

The South West London Procurement Partnership case

There are examples of organisations struggling with issues of patient safety and costs, and are finding effective solutions. As with all procurement organisations, SWLPP is seeking to find efficiency wherever it can. More efficient processes mean that nurses can return to patients sooner, organisations use their limited resources far more effectively and there is a clear structure of data use in place. SWLPP saw these challenges and implemented Scan4Safety as a response.

Daniel James, Director of Operational Procurement for the South West London Procurement Partnership, in a recent webinar spoke about how they implemented Scan4Safety across 92 locations between 2021 and 2022. This helped them align their processes and coordinate their inventory system across five trusts, giving them a deeper knowledge of their supply chain.

James also discussed the future of SWLPP’s implementation, including the upcoming ‘Phase 2’. The partnership hopes to add more point-of-care areas and align its systems further by transforming their interfaces. This will give them the ability to implement data-driven decisions on a deeper level while increasing transparency.

Efficient solutions in healthcare procurement

There are more and more efficient solutions in the healthcare sector becoming available for management staff. The most effective solutions are those that require minimal effort and get the hospital working efficiently more quickly, with features including:

Data usage

Data is an integral part of the majority of procurement efficiency solutions. For example, data shows that 40%; of hospital costs come from theatre. Using data effectively in this way provides managers with more guidance into the potential areas for improvement, giving a full narrative to anyone looking for greater insights. In the digital age, data is one of the most important tools available, and solutions such as Elcom’s Inventory Management System take full advantage of this information.

Inventory management

Procurement issues and inefficiencies come from a relative lack of information. This involves buying products that are already in stock or being unable to buy new products as you believe they are on the premises. Inventory management solutions, such as those using GS1 barcodes, constantly track the levels of stock within the organisation, and let senior management staff know when a reordering is necessary, and the approximate levels of stock required. This also saves a lot of nurse time by limiting the amount that people need to actively complete inventory counting tasks on the premises.


Automation refers to the use of technology to complete menial tasks without requiring human intervention. In inventory management, this is a highly adjustable feature that sees the IMS either informing the organisation of being low on stock or even ordering products entirely independently. Tailoring automation to an organisation’s needs means that the procurement manager retains complete control over the process whilst simplifying workloads for everyone, cutting down on costs and getting nurses back to their patients and improving patient safety.

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