• Continence products not delivered to patients on time 
  • Up to 10,000 orders were behind schedule 
  • Problems come as NHS switches its delivery company
  • NHS Supply Chain apologises for disruption

Thousands of continence products were delivered late to patients after a switch to a new national logistics provider went “badly wrong”, HSJ has learned.

As part of changes to the NHS Supply Chain service, logistics firm Unipart last month took over the job of delivering products to NHS Supply Chain’s customers after winning a £730m contract from the Department of Health and Social Care in June 2018.

Part of the contract is for the delivery of continence products to patients’ homes, as well as care homes and some NHS trusts.

But, following the transition to Unipart on 24 February, a “configuration error” in the new technology system caused an “operational slowdown” for this service, a spokeswoman for Supply Chain Coordination Limited (which is responsible for NHS Supply Chain) has confirmed.

Several sources told HSJ this resulted in the service being up to 10,000 deliveries behind schedule during the first week of operation. HSJ understands NHS Supply Chain receives around 2,600 orders for continence products daily.

The delays occurred despite Unipart’s subcontractor for the service, Movianto, increasing its vehicle capacity in preparation for go-live.

NHS Supply Chain, which sources and delivers thousands of different products to the NHS, had to enforce a business continuity plan. This included:

  • Reducing the size of customer orders to keep products flowing to patients;
  • Increasing the number of shifts worked; and
  • Using other NHS Supply Chain facilities to take pressure off Unipart’s main site in Coventry.

One source told HSJ: “The home delivery operation has gone badly wrong.

“The solution has been badly designed, preparation for implementation was poor, and testing [of the system] was late and of low quality.”

Another source said “costs are spiralling” as contingency plans kick in.

The SCCL spokeswoman apologised for “any delays or disruption caused to some customers and patients during the past few days”.

She said staff created a solution to the system error but “needed to sequence the fix in line with maintaining business continuity”.

“That solution is now in place and we are picking orders at a faster rate than required now,” she said. “We will be catching up on the backlog in the next few days.”

As of Wednesday last week, all orders were being picked up from the warehouses in line with NHS Supply Chain’s schedule.

When the problems emerged, deliveries of continence products to care homes were moved from Coventry to NHS Supply Chain’s regional distribution centres across the country, in Alfreton, Bridgwater, Normanton, Maidstone, Bury St Edmunds and Runcorn.

“These deliveries will be reintegrated into the home delivery service operation as part of business as usual,” the SCCL spokeswoman said.

“We have a small amount of orders still to be delivered to their final destination and expect those to be delivered to patients within the next few days.”

The NHS Supply Chain logistics contract award to Unipart was challenged by DHL last summer, which claimed Unipart had “limited experience” in the healthcare and life sciences sectors, and “appears not to operate at scale on projects of this complexity”.

The Department of Health and Social Care, which was the contracting authority, argued Unipart’s use of Movianto as a subcontractor meant the company met the requirements for the Supply Chain logistics provider, and the challenge was dismissed by the High Court. 

The SCCL spokeswoman added: “We confirm that all other aspects of ‘go-live’ for NHS Supply Chain logistics have been delivered smoothly.”

It is hoped the changes to the NHS Supply Chain model will result in savings of more than £2bn by 2023.

Glove problems continue after second company reports ‘supply issues’

A second major glove supplier to the NHS is reporting problems with its stock after demand for its products rose unexpectedly. 

Last month, HSJ reported that NHS Supply Chain had triggered contingency plans after its main glove supplier Semperit experienced stock shortages, partly caused by NHS trusts buying examination gloves at a much greater rate than forecast. 

On Thursday, NHS Supply Chain posted an update to trusts stating secondary supplier Medicare Products is reporting a “temporary supply issue” with its examination gloves. 

The issue has been caused by an “increased demand to these gloves being used as alternatives to out-of-stock products”. This appears to have happened because NHS Supply Chain’s contingency plan for Semperit’s problems were to increase the amount of orders from Medicare and Supermax Healthcare.

Medicare’s supply issue is “anticipated to be resolved” by 15 April, according to NHS Supply Chain.