By Owen Inglis-Humphrey, Senior Manager and Matt Sands, Manager, Deloitte
One of the first principles taught to clinicians in training is ‘first, do no harm’, instilling the importance of delivering the best care they can for patients. Scan4Safety is an initiative designed to enhance patient safety and improve operational efficiency. By using a simple barcode and GS1 unique identifiers, it enables accurate tracking of products, people, locations and assets throughout the healthcare system. This initiative supports clinicians to deliver the best care by ensuring the right treatments are delivered to the right patients at the right time, while streamlining inventory management and unlocking financial benefits. In this week’s blog, we explore the importance and benefits of Scan4Safety across the NHS, using our experience of large-scale transformations to identify the business change necessary to be successful.
What is Scan4Safety?
Scan4Safety is the application of common, machine-readable identifiers in a healthcare setting to consistently capture the right data at the right time, regardless of the technology used. The Scan4Safety initiative began in 2016 when the Department of Health & Social Care funded six NHS England trusts to investigate how Scan4Safety and its use of GS1 standards could benefit the NHS.
GS1 UK is a not-for-profit organisation that allocates and manages globally unique codes, known as GS1 identifiers.1 These provide a common language and approach for organisations to identify, capture and share information including in relation to products, locations, people, and assets. The table below outlines the four GS1 identifiers alongside examples of corresponding Scan4Safety applications.
Why inventory management?
For most organisations, an inventory management system (IMS) is a primary requirement of Scan4Safety to read, capture and analyse relevant data points. Today, half of all NHS trusts have an inventory management system, with just a third scanning at the point of care. Together, these systems can provide the first steps towards improving traceability by capturing accurate product information and attributing it to the correct patient via electronic patient records.2 Accelerating the adoption of IMS and point of care scanning across NHS is a key tenet of the recently announced NHS England Commercial Strategic Framework.3
IMSs can yield significant cash-releasing and efficiency benefits including real time inventory visibility, reduced stock management effort, standardisation of processes and waste reduction. Improving access to data surrounding products and equipment gives staff greater control and insight. This not only reduces physical waste but also the time otherwise spent looking for required items and chasing suppliers, with all information being available in real time, in the palm of a hand. In our experience implementing IMSs, NHS trusts gain a far more streamlined approach allowing staff to work smarter and more efficiently, handing them back the time to focus on delivery of care instead of undertaking unnecessary time-consuming administrative tasks.
A 2020 evaluation report, ‘A Scan of the Benefits’ demonstrated both the patient safety and cost efficiency savings gained from Scan4Safety:
- 140,000 hours of clinical time being released to care – this is a significant impact given that in September 2023, NHS waiting lists hit a record high in England as 7.47 million people waited for routine hospital treatments4
- recurrent inventory savings of almost £5 million across the initial six trusts – an important benefit given the current financial climate and the commitment from the NHS of £12bn of annualised savings by 2024/255
- reducing preventable error rates by 76 percent at Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust
- reducing product recall times from over eight days to 35 minutes at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.6
Why is Scan4Safety important today?
The NHS needs traceability of products, locations, people, and assets. COVID-19 underlined this need when the increased national demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) meant the healthcare system was then unable to cope, resulting in product supply shortages. This was in part due to a lack of visibility of the quantities, availability and location of products which amplified the risk of patient harm.7
There is a 2023 government mandate for the NHS to adopt barcode scanning of high-risk medical devices by March 2024.8 The use of barcodes and scanning technology will mean both patient and product journeys can be tracked, which is not only of benefit from a procurement perspective but will minimise errors which have significant impacts on patient safety. The 2023 Strategic Framework for NHS Commercial indicates that one of the key actions is to provide accurate, clean product data aligned to global data standards such as GS1. This is reinforced through the 2023 Department of Health & Social Care Medical Technology Strategy and the NHS England’s Digital Clinical Safety Strategy, prioritising patient safety by promoting Scan4Safety.9,10
The Scan4Safety initiative doesn’t end with point-of-care scanning and high-risk medical devices, the initiative provides NHS trusts with real-time location system (RTLS) technologies, such as radio-frequency identification (RFID) which is a potential game changer in health technology management, including asset management. This will enable employees to track the precise location and movements of medical equipment and patients as they progress through different areas and stages of care. An effective RFID asset tracking system ensures frontline staff have real-time visibility of key equipment to ensure high-quality patient care. The RTLS system data will provide NHS trusts with useful insights into a patient’s journey and the flow of patients through individual departments – resulting in significant time and cost savings in the transformation of clinical and administrative processes.
Some NHS trusts, such as Hull University Teaching Hospitals, have already implemented asset tracking and RTLS technologies within their hospitals. On average staff spent approximately 56 minutes a week looking for items, however with the introduction of RTLS, this has been significantly reduced to only four minutes, saving on average 35 hours a year per employee.11 Figure 1 summarises our experience of how Scan4Safety can minimise the risks and the associated burdens currently faced by the NHS.
Figure 1. Some of the crucial clinical benefits of implementing Scan4Safety
Source: Deloitte analysis, 2023
The need for robust patient safety, financial and operational improvements in healthcare has become increasingly important in today NHS. By bringing together essential elements across the healthcare system (such as procurement, clinical technology, medical devices, and suppliers), Scan4Safety has patient safety as its ultimate goal. The evaluation of the pilot implementation of Scan4Safety and its use of GS1 standards in demonstrator trusts provides insights and learnings to support its wider implementation in the NHS. The resulting blueprint, summarised in their evidence report establishes five detailed steps to support the spread of Scan4Safety:
- making the case
- creating a governance structure
- creating clinical engagement
- working out the best starting point
- progressing the work.12
However, implementing Scan4Safety efficiently can be a complex undertaking, demanding a deep understanding of the business change required to successfully carry out this transformation. The lessons and ‘blueprints’ from those organisations that have embedded Scan4Safety in their organisation, including the importance of close clinical engagement, are a vital starting point to support the adoption of innovation in healthcare more widely.
Thanks to Elaine Marshall, for her support in developing this blog.