By Andy Smallwood, Assistant Director of Procurement, NHS Wales Shared Services Partnership.

NHS procurement teams face a wide range of challenges, which have been amplified in recent years due to the far-reaching impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, rising levels of inflation, and ongoing workforce pressures.

From identifying cost-saving opportunities to reducing the NHS’ environmental impact through better purchasing decisions, the only way to can enhance the NHS’ procurement processes is by using data effectively and implementing innovative technology solutions to support us.

Identifying challenges in procurement

Having worked in NHS procurement for over 25 years, one of the biggest challenges I’ve repeatedly faced is the lack of access to consistent and transparent data within complicated procurement systems. Data visibility hinders our ability to identify cost-saving opportunities – an essential part of procurement in all walks of life. The challenge is even greater when data is spread across multiple systems and teams, which many procurement teams in England will be aware of, given the ongoing transition to integrated care.

The move to integrated care has left some regional procurement leads with less visibility and control over procurement spend data and analytics, with more data to manage across multiple sites within a region. ​I​n Wales, the NHS has been operating in an integrated way for a while through the NHS Wales Shared Services Partnership, which ensures that the right products, provisions and services are sourced and supplied efficiently and at the right price across the country.

This has only been made possible through the emergence of advanced analytics and solutions which have improved the quality and visibility of data considerably.

Enabling better decision making

To help our procurement team deal with the vast amounts of data being collected and managed across each care setting in Wales, we implemented AdviseInc’s Procurement Dashboard, now known as the AdviseInc Platform. The platform provides us with complete oversight of catalogues and procurement data across the country, while also enabling us to add more detailed classification to spend, including all the major clinical categories.

By working with AdviseInc, who act as an extension of our team, we now have the ability to cleanse our data, compare this data with areas outside of Wales, and have visibility of greater savings and richer information as a result.

AdviseInc also provides us with valuable analytical support, meaning that instead of analysing rafts of procurement data and manually searching for cost-saving opportunities, our team has more time to focus on other key areas of procurement.

For example, we can now dedicate more time to consider how our procurement decisions align with objectives set out in the Future Generations Act. This was introduced in 2015 to make sure public bodies in Wales think about the long-term impact of their decisions and work collaboratively to prevent persistent problems such as poverty, health inequalities and climate change.

Using data analytics to improve safety and accuracy

For NHS procurement teams, environmental considerations should be made with every purchasing decision. Along with buying fewer overseas products and reducing the number of single-use plastics across the NHS, procurement teams need to spend more time innovating and contributing towards green initiatives, which is where companies like AdviseInc can make a tremendous impact. The solution is helping us meet national and local targets and gives us the ability to clearly target actions and deliver against carbon reduction targets.

It goes without saying that safety is a top priority for all NHS staff, from clinical staff to administration to procurement. In 2016, the Scan4Safety programme was introduced across England and Wales, with the aim of ensuring all products are labelled according to GS1 standards with a Global Trade Item Number (GTIN). This safety system is being implemented across the country, contributing to improved patient safety, product traceability, operational productivity and supply chain efficiency.

Across Wales, we’re now identifying hundreds of thousands of product barcodes and collecting as much information on these products as possible. So far, we’ve identified more than 170,000 products with barcode information and shared these with AdviseInc who can validate these barcodes, resulting in richer data. The AdviseInc team can then give a confidence rating for these codes to indicate if the data is reliable, as sometimes suppliers provide inaccurate product codes.

Additionally, AdviseInc has helped to identify more than 230,000 barcodes. The added benefit of being able to check these codes against existing data adds another level of safety for patients as stock can be recalled through the GTIN number which is also linked to patient records.

As always in procurement, our goal is to ensure products are coming from the correct supplier. Through the AdviseInc Platform we can check GTIN numbers, further adding another layer of accuracy. Looking to the future, our teams are working with AdviseInc on an inventory model which will act as a ‘one-stop shop’ for data analytics. This model will give users the ability to see what stock is available, who bought it and when.

The use of data to make informed decisions

Thanks to these new capabilities, we now have more time to collaborate with our clinical staff, using our data to inform and guide procurement decisions. By bringing our procurement team and clinicians together, we can find solutions that work for everyone.

Procurement teams face many challenges, but then use of technology can make workflows easier and more efficient. Better use of technology allows us to identify cost-savings, support green initiatives, and generate genuine value through procurement decision-making for both patients and staff. The future of procurement is transparent, and data-driven.