Special report: Technology uptake increases as government puts patients at the heart of NHS services

How current and emerging government policy is driving the adoption of GS1 UK supply chain standards

Uptake of life-saving technology among NHS trusts is increasing rapidly, driven by new government policy aimed at putting patients at the centre of services.

Speaking to BBH recently, Glen Hodgson, head of healthcare at supply chain standards organisation, GS1 UK, said the Personalised Health and Care 2020 and the NHS eProcurement Strategy had made healthcare providers look at how they can enhance services through the widespread deployment of technologies such as barcodes and Radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology.

After two doctors from Maidstone Hospital were recently charged with corporate manslaughter over the death a patient, NHS trusts are understanding how standards can play a strong part in mitigating drug errors and so-called never events

The use of barcodes, which have been used by the retail sector for over 30 years, allows hospital systems to uniquely identify and track people, products and places, helping to increase safety by reducing patient errors, for example with medication; and enabling organisations to track and trace equipment, both to ensure devices are not left inside patients in operating theatres, and to keep hospital stocks down and ensure vital products are to hand when needed.

“After two doctors from Maidstone Hospital were recently charged with corporate manslaughter over the death a patient, NHS trusts are understanding how standards can play a strong part in mitigating drug errors and so-called ‘never events’,”said Hodgson.

The Government has mandated use of GS1 barcoding standards within NHS trusts, but until recently deployment was piecemeal. For example, while many trusts are using barcoded patient wristbands, they do not have the scanners to read them, or, if they do, the data that is scanned is not fully integrated with other hospital systems, meaning the overall impact in terms of enhancing safety is being underutilised.

Hodgson said: “In the last 12 months we have seen deployment of barcoding increase rapidly within trusts. We are now working with 120 NHS acute trusts to help them become compliant and to make the most of the technology.”

Through its recent policies, the Department of Health is promoting three core enablers for barcodes within the NHS – the unique identification of people, products and places. These will enable a wide range of applications that will increase patient safety and increase efficiencies, with the initial focus on purchase to pay within procurement services, and also track and trace and product safety recalls.

In the last 12 months we have seen deployment of barcoding increase rapidly within trusts. We are now working with 120 NHS acute trusts to help them become compliant and to make the most of the technology

“If we just look at recalls for example, we can see how essential standards are to healthcare,” said Hodgson.

“Two pieces of legislation are coming out. The first is Unique Device Identification (UDI), which is being driven by events such as the PiP breast implant scandal; and the second is the Falsified Medicines Directive (FMD), which brings unique serialisation of every medicine dispensed. Globally-accepted standards are critical to ensuring the unique identification of every product that falls under UDI and FMD legislation.”

Another important step has seen GS1 UK working closely with the Department of Health to put together an advisory board – with the aim of to increasing uptake of GS1 barcoding standards.

“Until now, we’ve had very much a supply chain-focused message, but we need to make this more relevant to healthcare trusts,” said Hodgson.

“Out of perhaps the 50 most-influential people in healthcare in England, we have got 20 on the board of our advisory panel. This includes directors from NHS trusts, NHS England, the Department of Health, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, and chief executives of the major trade organisations.

“The group is driving improved cross working between procurement, financial and clinical teams and we are all working together to accept and implement the standards.

“Historically, trusts have done bits and pieces by themselves as it has made sense to do so. The government drive through its eProcurement Strategy means the next step will be to roll the standards out in full across all organisations.”

As well as the panel, monthly user groups are being held, chaired by the Department of Health and aimed at finding areas of good practice and sharing that. GS1 UK also recently held a two-day conference in Loughborough.

Hodgson said: “This is building significant traction and a lot of trusts are now working together very closely.”

Historically, trusts have done bits and pieces by themselves as it has made sense to do so. The government drive through its eProcurement Strategy means the next step will be to roll the standards out in full across all organisations

To aid with this the Department of Health has agreed to fund a number of demonstration sites for GS1 standards.

“In early July they will choose six trusts to become demonstrator sites. This will result in a significant cash reward to these trusts to help them implement GS1 standards across all their systems and processes, and become NHS beacons.”

In the future, Hodgson said barcoding and RFID-tagging was likely to further evolve to cover issues such as estates management and rationalisation.

“Uniquely identifying every location and every asset is becoming increasingly important and can really help to manage estates in the future,” he added.

Importantly, Government policy is beginning to take an integrated care approach and building the bridge between hospital and out-of-hospital care. In addition, the ‘rate my doctor’ website, the introduction of kite marks, and the digitisation of children’s record books means trusts need to take action.

Key to the deployment of the standards across all of healthcare will be ensuring hospital systems speak to one another.

If we sit all information in a patient record and that record is GS1 compliant, that gives the all-important ‘certainty of truth’ about who did what, to whom, when, and why – and that can prevent problems from occurring

Hodgson explains: “Many hospitals can have 50 different information systems or more, each trying to speak to another and that is quite a challenge. But if you make the patient record the centre of the universe and ensure everything else speaks to that, then you get that interoperability within the hospital community and wider community, social and primary care services.

“If we sit all information in a patient record and that record is GS1 compliant, that gives the all-important ‘certainty of truth’ about who did what, to whom, when, and why – and that can prevent problems from occurring.

“We know that we can’t solve every issue because human beings are involved, but I strongly believe there’s a good case for making significant improvement in efficiency and safety.”

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