With unprecedented pressure on our health system, the case for making better use of the resources we have – in other words, the NHS becoming more efficient – is an important one.
It should be noted that the NHS is actually one of the world’s most efficient healthcare systems in the world already. Germany, for example, spends 30% more per person on healthcare than we do. But the pressures our system faces – pressures related to rising demands and demographic challenges – are far greater than many others. The NHS is efficient, but it has to become even more so.
So it’s worth remembering some of the ways in which experts believe NHS trusts can save money, and make more of the increasingly tight budgets they’re working with.
A key part of the wider NHS Improvement plan is to standardise and improve trust procurement to unlock a potential £1 billion in savings. But this plan, set out by Lord Carter, shouldn’t be something trusts wait to be guided on. Opportunities to save are abundant already.
In some parts of the UK, trusts have paid up to 50 times more than they could have for items like rubber gloves. The variance in spending is well-publicised.
The key appears to be cutting the number of product lines of everyday consumables. The NHS uses a staggering 500,000 products, but it’s believed that this could be reduced to less than 10,000. And bringing that number down would directly lead to savings – not just in terms of cheaper products, but because of the increased efficiency that comes with managing fewer suppliers.
Better value on medicine
Making sure hospitals pay the lowest price for medicine sounds straightforward. But with well-publicised stories like the hospital unnecessarily paying £1.50 for soluble tablets when a 2p solid version would have sufficed, it evidently isn’t.
Again, it’s a problem of administration and efficiency, no doubt complicated by everyone who works for the NHS being devoid of time and therefore vulnerable to complacency. But what has to change is the perception that getting the best price for every single product and medicine isn’t time well spent.
The NHS spends £16 billion a year on drugs overall, and one hospital recently saved £230,000 a year by changing the way it tracks the medicines and products it buys. The scale of the opportunity to save in this area is vast and relatively untapped.
Reduce agency spend
Reducing agency spend is a catch 22. But no matter how severe staff shortages get, no slack will be given for temporary staffing.
The secret here, in our humble opinion, is getting agency staff on to a bank. Because, to put it simply, vacancy filling through an efficient bank system will save you money without having to cut the temporary staff you rely so heavily upon. After all, temporary staff are merely an answer to the challenge of not having enough permanent workers.
Typically, the biggest barrier is making sure your bank system is actually efficient. The inefficient ones, which are all too common across the UK, fail to move staff from agencies because they fail to engage them. The technology is old, outdated, and fails to simulate the simplicity of use that people expect from technology nowadays.
If you want a bank system that does engage workers – and is proven to make trusts more efficient – you can see it in action here.
Easy and efficient e-rostering
The Carter Review, published in February 2016, called for all trusts to have efficient and robust e-rostering platforms in place by October 2018. How time flies.
The Review also speculated that as much as £2 billion in savings across the NHS is possible by better use of staffing technology like e-rosters. And as a developer of e-rostering technology, we know from experience just how much potential there is.
But the problem in this area isn’t necessarily that trusts don’t use e-rostering; huge numbers of trusts implemented e-rostering platforms years ago. The real problem is that these platforms aren’t performing as they need to.
With many systems installed many years ago, they’re failing to adapt to the increasingly flexible nature of patient demand. Rostering for multiple positions on a single shift is a long and arduous task, and the typically poor reporting capability doesn’t give the visibility trusts need to make improvements.
As for the end user, it’s hard to swap shifts, view multiple vacancies in one screen, and ultimately the platforms aren’t intuitive. As users of technology, we all demand simplicity and speed; and for staff, accepting shifts through most e-rosters offers a very different experience.
So trusts can’t simply assume that having an e-roster is good enough. Moving to a new and improved model will engage users at both ends, save time and money, and lead to better fill rates.
Of course there will be resistance. Changing technology is always challenging, let alone within the context of an NHS that’s creaking under the weight of patient demand. But a change of perception is needed to convince everyone who works and cares for the NHS that technology can and will make a positive difference to patient care.
Our own platform, Clarityroster, is the newest, most flexible and most intuitive model on the market – with activity-based rostering and real-time reporting. And we also provide an expert implementation team who are well accustomed to the issues trusts face in introducing new technology.
You can request a free demo today.