How holding down multiple roles has given me an insight into the real issues with NHS buying | Fiona Burton

Fiona Barton

Fiona Burton works as a nurse in the NHS and the private sector, and is a consultant in the commercial world for a company that helps the NHS to improve procurement. Here, Fiona shares her insight into why there is a role for clinicians in the buying process.

To achieve healthcare efficiencies and improve the way in which the NHS purchases, all NHS staff must contribute. It’s not only procurement and supply chain teams that have a part to play, or who indeed benefit; organisation-wide commitment is a must. 

All healthcare professionals are part of the bigger picture to get the NHS into better shape, and clinicians bring invaluable insight – one that has often been overlooked.

Ten years ago, I began my career in the NHS as a surgical nurse, moving over to maternity, theatres and then into procurement. My nursing background brought a unique insight to my role and responsibilities as a procurement lead, one that is only achieved by working on the frontline. 

As clinicians, our product knowledge enables us to spot areas where savings can be made, which do not appear so obvious to those working solely in procurement. Procurement managers may see expenditure for a certain product, but clinicians are often able to distinguish what job the product will be used for and therefore whether multiple orders of the same products could in fact be reduced. It’s changes like this that can really help improve efficiencies, minimise wastage and reduce costs.

Today I hold multiple roles: a nurse at St Georges Hospital and at Ashtead Hospital, as well as a consultant at Ingenica Solutions, an organisation that helps the NHS achieve greater efficiencies through improving procurement and supply chain processes. I therefore see NHS buying from three very different perspectives.

Recent studies indicate that up to 25 per cent of nursing time is spent managing supplies and re-ordering; others report one hour per person per shift. Nurses often have more interaction with suppliers than procurement – shouldn’t this insight be captured and transferred to help improve current buying?  

The reality is that unless NHS staff are directly involved in either procurement and supply chain roles, like I currently am, it is unlikely that they have an opportunity to contribute to developments. This oversight is costing the NHS dearly.  

Working day-to-day on the frontline, clinicians inevitably experience things from a different viewpoint and are able to identify gaps in procurement efficiencies. The trusts that really thrive here are those in which senior management involve frontline staff in the process.  

I have never come across a clinician that does not want to be included – we want our voices to be heard, want to transfer our knowledge and be part of improvements.  I was able to reduce consumption of single patient pressure cuffs, and now rather than patients receiving a new cuff in every department, through standardising all the blood pressure machines, just one cuff goes with them across the entire hospital. It is improvements like this that clinicians are able to identify earlier than procurement staff.  

Simply informing nurses of the changes is not enough – let’s get nurses on board in our procurement decisions and make them part of the process.  

In my early days of procurement, I would often hear clinicians say that no one is listening to them.  While it still appears an issue, progress is beginning to be made in some trusts.  Nurses that I work with who faced the same set of challenges I experienced early on, and felt that the procurement process was something that was done to them, and did not include them, now feel more engaged.    

Trusts across the UK are under enormous pressure to reduce expenditure without reducing the standard of patient care, and one of the most effective ways this can be achieved is by improving buying practices, reducing wastage, minimising the risk of fraud, and cutting costs.  

Everyone is part of this, not only to help individual departments improve, and their trust, but also the NHS as a whole. There is a role for clinicians in procurement.

Fiona Burton is a nurse and consultant at Ingenica Solutions.

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