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Published July 2020
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Super-efficiency saves lives

How GS1 standards save the NHS time and resources – and virtually everything in between


Accountabilities for an NHS manager are clear and well documented: benchmarks, directives, performance targets and – of course ­– efficiency drives.

Daily challenges Ian Britcliffe, a supply chain manager at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, knows well. So, when he identified an opportunity to improve processes, he took it.

He and his team recognised the need to introduce a new inventory management process in the hospital’s operating theatre – one place where cutting costs can have devastating consequences, if not handled properly. But he was confident a new system would improve the day-to-day running of things, so they began rolling out GS1 standards to their inventory.

Almost immediately, the benefits were clear.

They not only took stock of neglected storerooms and control of wastage, they started saving £3m a year. And by simply using a standardised, automated system of stock management, they freed up 7,100 hours in clinical staff time – which can now be spent delivering better patient care.

Compelling stories like these remind us of how effective GS1 standards can be – helping the NHS to become more efficient and safer too.

By ensuring our resources are always in the right place at the right time, there’s less chance of things going wrong. It’s reassuring for patients, but a game changer for clinicians like Keith Jones.


By using a standardised, automated system of stock management, they freed up a staggering 7,100 hours in clinical staff time.

As the clinical director of surgery at Derby Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Keith’s team introduced GS1 standards to their stock control system within general theatre.

They were able to track and trace the smallest items, like surgical screws, as well as log stock that had been opened but not used. Fully automated and updated, the GS1-powered system provided unprecedented levels of high-quality, real-time data which, for the very first time in his career, allowed Keith to accurately cost an entire procedure from start to finish.

Due to its size, the GS1 DataMatrix is the only barcode that can be used to mark surgical instruments. Which, given the huge numbers of them, their constant usage, and unique ability to get lost and misplaced between surgeries, can have a significant impact on day-to-day operations.

The results and rewards of standards implementation are clear, but in a real-world situation, these issues are often overlooked as vast structural problems. All it takes is a conversation, and the benefits become too good to ignore.

At the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay, the team found that GS1 standards were not only easy to implement, but also smarter, safer, and helped future-proof the trust.

After purchasing a machine marker, the team was able to efficiently mark instruments throughout their hospital sites, including two full emergency departments, and now have an accurate and always up-to-date inventory of all instruments in use throughout the trust.

Beyond simple efficiencies, and accurate data sharing, the cost-savings benefits of GS1 standards are undeniable.

After deciding to pilot a GS1 compliant procurement system within their head and neck theatres, Taunton & Somerset NHS Foundation Trust saw a benefit almost immediately. In fact, within weeks of introducing the new system, the procurement team were planning a further two phases of implementation that would see GS1 standards applied across the entire trust.

They have since controlled over-ordering, leading to a £20,000 reduction in expired stock, and achieving a £500,000 stock adjustment.

GS1 is dedicated to helping more and more people within the health sector become super-efficient. Not just to save money and resources, but so that they can focus on the one thing they’re there to do: deliver better patient care.


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