It’s all about quality data

Source: NHE March/April 2018

Steve Graham, eProcurement/Scan4Safety lead at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), and Gillian Fox, head of the eProcurement Programme at NHS Supply Chain, discuss the ways through which NHS providers and suppliers can simplify data management.

Thousands of suppliers support the NHS by providing the equipment it needs to treat its patients. Yet before medical goods of any kind can be delivered, buying organisations need to tell selling organisations what they need. With so many products, often with many specifications, some of them configurable, supporting many different procedures and interventions – with the potentially harmful consequences of getting it wrong – this process can be fraught with difficulty.

A way to simplify this process and better support the NHS to care for its patients is for suppliers to electronically share information on the products that they sell. Currently, many versions and variations of what should be identical data about any specific product are used both within and across the NHS and its suppliers. What is needed is a single version of common data that can be reused by any and all organisations that rely on that data.

The GS1 Global Data Synchronisation Network (GDSN) offers the opportunity to provide the NHS with a ‘single source of truth’ for product data. Through this model, suppliers maintain accurate product data, using their own tried-and-tested electronic systems. NHS buyers access this data using their own in-trust systems, with accurate information flowing electronically between the two through a validation gateway that provides assurance over the scope and quality of the data that is being exchanged.

The NHS is not the only healthcare system to have realised this and to have stated an aspiration to work towards its realisation. However, it finds itself ahead of many, because it has a plan – the NHS eProcurement Strategy – and it is well on the way to seeing that plan become a reality. Through the DHSC-led Scan4Safety initiative, an increasing number of suppliers are piloting the electronic exchange of accurate master product data over the GDSN.

NHS Supply Chain: what we are we doing

In line with the DHSC approach of ‘learn once and implement many times,’ NHS Supply Chain is, with a small and focused group of compliant suppliers, piloting a master data validation and sharing service. This service receives master product data from GS1 data pools via GDSN; validates and assures the data against DHSC published data dictionaries; and exchanges product data electronically with NHS trusts directly or via approved intermediary technology providers.

The pilot follows a formal process of engagement and data-gathering to drive data quality and to maximise the opportunity to obtain learning from the process. The process has four stages: invitation; proof of concept; full validation; and upload of Global Trade Item Numbers (GTINs), which are the unique references that identify a unique product. Each of these stages has provided valuable learnings in four core areas: data standards; data accuracy and completeness; evolving systems; and developing processes.

  1. Invitation stage: Suppliers who have declared themselves as compliant with the Scan4Safety supplier timeline have been invited to join the pilot. This has ensured good engagement and progress as these early adopter suppliers see the benefit and importance for their organisations. A second wave of invitations is currently underway;
  2. The proof of concept phase with each supplier involves quality checks on a subsection of data to prove it has been accurately published through the GDSN network. Secondary checks are then completed against the data dictionary to ensure complete and accurate compliance. As this is a pilot, any discrepancies are captured and root cause analysis undertaken. This is providing useful insight particularly for data standards and accuracy. Suppliers have been able to see where in their process an error is occurring, and the DHSC has been able to see where guidance notes need to be better defined and where data dictionaries require updating;
  3. Full validation: Checks are completed against the full data set for all relevant products. This has led to learning for the GDSN system and process requirements to ensure that the required volumes of data can be managed during this stage;
  4. Finally, within the pilot the GTIN is provided to trusts’ catalogue systems and back through to suppliers as part of a purchase order. Again, this has provided learning for all participants about the requirements for receiving and processing transactional data.

The pilot is informing the development of the future ‘steady state’ solution and is already delivering value in driving data quality and data enrichment. Once all parties involved in the implementation activity achieve compliance, the networks will be scaled up to take on increasing numbers of suppliers and, as they become compliant, the benefits and learnings will be shared across the industry.

Supplier: benefits and why

Seventeen suppliers have initially been involved in the first stage of the pilot, and a second wave of invitations has now gone out. The NHS supplier base will see significant benefits from utilising the GDSN and supporting a single source of data into the NHS, including:

  • Reduced duplication of effort as the data only has to be provided once for all NHS product data requirements;
  • Easier control of product data so it is provided accurately and consistently;
  • Better-quality data returned to suppliers from trusts purchase orders;
  • Compliance with the Medical and In-Vitro Diagnostic Device regulations.

Malcolm Dobson, process manager at B. Braun Medical Ltd, explained the benefits of using GDSN as a supplier to the NHS: “We are fully engaged with the DHSC to help ensure NHS hospital trusts implement the use of GDSN to achieve accurate and consistent data across the NHS.

“GDSN is a reliable and effective solution through the provision and management of accurate procurement data, and has created stronger links between all parties and resulted in a successful outcome for all.” 

NHS trusts: benefits and why

Scan4Safety is all about quality data – quality data at the start of the supply chain and quality data throughout the delivery of patient care. Working with Scan4Safety, NHS trusts provide a bank of evidence proving the benefits of the implementation of global standards into healthcare.

The use of accurate data through GDSN will enable the NHS to:

  • Compare like with like by using common product and patient identifiers;
  • Access information useful and relevant to clinicians that is needed for patient safety;
  • Reduce errors in the data so it can be relied on for decision-making;
  • Spend less time on administrative duties and more time supporting patient care;
  • Lower supply chain costs through less duplication, input and management of information.

James Mayne, head of programme management and Scan4Safety lead at Derby Teaching Hospitals NHS FT, considered the benefits of accurate data for NHS trusts: “By using quality data from our suppliers, we can ensure that we order the right products, from the right suppliers, and when we need them. We can view and utilise our stocks more effectively and have certainty that we know what we have on site and where it is.”

Rob Drag, Scan4Safety programme manager at Salisbury NHS FT, added: “Knowing that we are ordering using accurate data means that our teams can remain focused on supporting the delivery of the best patient care, and not spend time and energy fixing supply chain problems and communicating with suppliers.”


Scan4Safety is a pioneering initiative led by the DHSC that is improving patient safety, increasing clinical productivity and advancing supply chain efficiency through the adoption of standards in healthcare. To find out more, visit:


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