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27.09.17

How standards help trusts fulfil the Carter vision

Source: NHE Sep/Oct 17

Glen Hodgson, head of healthcare at GS1 UK, looks at the role GS1 standards have to play in the future NHS.

Just over two years ago, Lord Carter released his interim report looking at the operational productivity of NHS trusts. In the time since then, trusts and government have worked hard to implement his suggested changes, and GS1 standards are at the heart of much of this work. 

Both his interim and final report, released in February 2016, stated his view that transformational change is in order if the NHS is going to save the money needed between now and 2020. But this wasn’t Lord Carter’s only insight – he has a vision for how this can happen, and it involves better resource management, reducing unwarranted variation and a consistent approach across NHS trusts. It’s because they help to deliver on all three of these things that GS1 standards get several mentions in his report: “The introduction of GS1 standards will allow every NHS hospital in England to save on average up to £3m each year while improving patient care.” 

Better resource management 

One of the ways in which standards help trusts is that they can free up time spent doing manual tasks. A good example of this is taking place right now at Barking, Havering & Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust (BHRUT). Starting back in 2013 with a CQC report that put it into special measures, BHRUT knew it needed to make some big changes. One area that had been questioned in particular was its labour-intensive traditional health records library model. Not only did extra staff have to be hired to find records, but 40% could be out of circulation at any one time, and missing records meant clinics were often cancelled. 

BHRUT introduced a complete process change, with a location-based system replacing its old model. Using GS1 RFID tags on medical records, the trust is now able to track and locate them at key locations around its buildings using mounted readers and handheld scanners. 

Not only are records now available whenever they’re needed, three members of staff can file 2,000 records in one day. Before, this would have needed at least four members of staff and five days of filing. And as Lord Carter’s report predicts, these kinds of efficiencies save the trust money – £2.4m across three years. 

Reducing unwarranted variation 

Derby Teaching Hospitals NHS FT (DHFT) has been using GS1 standards in its theatres since 2014, scanning everything that takes place during a procedure. The trust knows who did what to who, and where and when it happened – it has over 100,000 theatre episodes recorded. It’s able to use this as a clinical database, keeping track of patient outcomes and variations in treatment. It gives the trust accurate costings and timings for each procedure, highlighting any variation where a group of surgeons are performing the same procedure. 

If one consultant, for example, is able to complete an operation in less time because he or she has an extra two members of staff in theatre, this can be used to argue for two extra healthcare assistants in other theatres, meaning they can get more cases through in a day. Patients are safer because they spend less time in theatre and clinicians are more efficient because their time is used more effectively.  

Project imagine image edit

Consistent approach 

What Lord Carter’s report encourages us to do is imagine the impact of these efficiencies, such as those we’ve seen at BHRUT and DHFT, if they were rolled out consistently across the whole NHS. It would be transformational, and many are in no doubt it’s what the system needs. 

We’ve seen its beginnings in the Scan4Safety programme, launched last year, where six trusts were given £12m to introduce the scanning of every person, every product and every place into their hospitals, using GS1 standards. All six will complete the programme this year having already over-delivered by 70% in estimated financial savings. And the Department of Health predicts that future savings could exceed £1bn if the approach is adopted by all 148 remaining acute trusts. 

As Lord Carter himself said earlier this year, “this is not about doing something new, but about doing something we know already works… right across the NHS estate”. It’s for that reason that he called GS1 standards “the most important change happening in the NHS, after staff productivity”. 

And it’s not just about the change, it’s also about getting started as soon as possible – whilst the potential savings and efficiencies are huge, the cost to the NHS of not doing this gets greater and greater the longer we wait.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

W: www.gs1uk.org/healthcare

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