Poor stock control can have a significant impact on patient safety and cancelled procedures. The push to deliver cost savings across the NHS should not be to the detriment of patient safety. Here we look at how trusts can realise significant cost savings through better stock control.

This year alone Sentient Health found out-of-date medical supplies on the shelves at five hospitals. In recent months there have been a spate news stories which show that issues about materials and equipment are of growing importance.

When hospitals invite us in to carry out an evidence based savings assessment we look at what they have in stock and how it’s stored. At that point we sometimes have staff telling us that more space is needed and they are thinking about converting things like nurses’ areas for storage.

Closer inspection often reveals that about 20% of what’s on the shelves is stuff that for a variety of reasons – for example it’s a product they no longer use – can be removed. Sometimes we find items which have passed the use by date. What’s needed is a thorough clear-out. It may not always solve the space problem but it helps and it certainly improves patient safety. Some of the old stock can even be used for training rather than just binned. But it has to be separated out so there’s no risk of it getting near patients.

Getting rid of clutter also helps address a frequent complaint that staff end up wasting time because they can’t track down what they need. But this is just the start. Once you have got a handle of what’s overstocked and, more crucially, what’s understocked, you can start making rapid gains that will pay for themselves. Most of the problems come about because the stock control and distribution systems at hospitals either do not exist, or are obsolete.

Realising the benefits

Identifying the problem is one thing, finding and implementing the solution is quite another. An EBS assessment or equivalent in-house exercise to look at exactly what’s being ordered, and why, is a vital first step. All too often the purchasing process is unquestioning – regular orders go in and supplies turn up, but some remain unused and stock builds up. Alternatively, when something is used a replacement is ordered regardless of whether it’s actually needed.

However, an effective IT system can help deliver good stock control. Telling you what’s in stock and where it is, following it through the supply chain from receipt storeroom to patient. That gives immediate control over ordering and distribution, driving down costs by cutting waste and raising efficiency by making sure that the surgeons and maternity ward staff have what they want at the moment it’s needed.