How does the future of supply chains look in the NHS? – Med-Tech Innovation

How does the future of supply chains look in the NHS? – Med-Tech Innovation


Ed Bradley, founder and director of Virtualstock, explores the future of NHS supply chains as the UK emerges from its COVID-19 lockdown.

As the country emerges from the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis, every sector of the economy will begin asking itself fundamental questions about how it coped in the face of the pandemic and what changes can be embedded to create a lasting legacy and build resilience in the future. Procurement and supply chains within the NHS will be at the forefront of this change and this moment offers a unique opportunity for the system to modernise and accelerate a digital transformation agenda.

Every supply chain system was overwhelmed

Supplying the country’s hospitals with PPE, linen, specialist equipment and food is a huge and complex undertaking that operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This operation faced huge pressures during the peak of the crisis following the huge upsurge in demand from hospitals and other health and care providers who had to quickly equip themselves to cope with the pandemic.

Currently, there are numerous legacy systems that teams and suppliers use, which can result in disconnected ordering and inventory systems and lack of joined-up data. This creates additional work for busy procurement teams as they look to rationalise and track the products that are entering their sites and monitor the utilisation rates.

Many Trusts prior to COVID-19 only used to work with several large suppliers because their systems couldn’t handle product data from multiple suppliers. This was fine prior to the crisis. However, this was a major hindrance during the crisis when Trusts needed to ramp up the number of suppliers it worked with.

As Trusts were typically only working directly with a small number of suppliers because their legacy systems couldn’t handle more, it also meant there was a lack of visibility for procurement teams over what products were available from across the supply chain. The recent crisis revealed a paradox, where suppliers had available equipment, but due to a lack of flexibility and connectivity in the structures in place, hospitals were not able to join the dots and access these new suppliers.

Questions will be asked of the past, but now is the time to offer ideas and solutions for the future.

What do the solutions actually look like?

First will be working towards digital rationalisation; putting the time and effort in now to create a truly joined up digital system that is used by hospitals and those who supply them. If implemented, data will flow between provider and supplier, allowing hospital procurement teams to win back time and resource that can be better employed elsewhere in the system, which ultimately is better for the NHS. Supplier-side, access to utilisation and inventory data of their products will allow for smarter manufacturing, ordering and delivery, pre-empting any supply issues.

Second will involve a rethink of our procurement model; opening up the procurement system to allow more suppliers to participate and contribute. This will build in flexibility, enabling providers to act with agility when confronted with future pressure points and establishing systems that are tailored to the needs of the individual provider rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

Building better resilience

Adopting an agenda of digital transformation and procurement flexibility is critical for the NHS, not only for resilience against future pandemics, but also for a health system that uses its resources more intelligently. The NHS has a huge, well-established procurement structure that excels in logistics – delivering the right supply on time day in day out. However, we owe it to our much-loved health service to support this critical service with innovative, flexible and digital solutions that make it fit for the future. Only then will we emerge from this crisis with true resilience.


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