The NHS: Shining a light on digital success stories

As the biggest public sector organisation in the UK, the NHS is understandably heavily and regularly scrutinised. In a hugely complex organisation that counts millions of British taxpayers as stakeholders, one area of increasing focus is the use of digital to drive efficiency. And the NHS itself recently admitted that there’s room for improvement.

In April, it published its digital maturity assessment which evaluated the effectiveness of digital technologies across its 239 trusts. The findings were ‘mixed’, with Paul Rice, the NHS head of technology strategy at NHS England, taking aim at the likes of e-Prescribing.

But this doesn’t paint the whole picture. There are tech-based success stories that aren’t receiving the hype they deserve.

Adopting PEPPOL

In 2014, the NHS announced it would adopt PEPPOL – the Pan-European Public Procurement Online project – and GS1 standards to underpin its e-Procurement strategy, in line with the EU directive for electronic invoicing in public procurement. The introduction of e-Ordering, e-Invoicing, and advanced shipping notes into its processes aims to improve collaboration, drive efficiency, better manage suppliers, and ultimately, help save the NHS £1.5 billion.

While PEPPOL was only adopted two years ago, the NHS has already had some great results in areas such as e-Invoicing.

For example, the NHS Shared Business Services (NHS SBS), a leading business support services provider to the NHS, grew the number of invoices it electronically processed per month from 5,000 to 50,000 in just over a year. As a result, its accounts payable team has access to payment details and workflow straight away, and can now reduce the approval processing time of invoices from 14 days to just three.

Not only does this improved efficiency help conserve resources (and ultimately public money) but it has also transformed supplier management. NHS SBS suppliers are, on average, being paid in 24 days instead of 42 – a 43 per cent improvement in their payment time.

The next step for NHS SBS is to tackle e-Procurement, something which has also started to roll-out in other areas of the NHS in line with PEPPOL and GS1. In January, the NHS announced it had chosen six trusts to receive £12 million worth of funding to pilot the scheme. They will use scan technology to track and associate products including medicines and implants, to specific patients and clinicians with the aim of improving patient safety, as well as contributing to saving money.

Going paperless

Then, in February, the UK government announced its latest paperless drive for the NHS. With more than £4 billon investment, it plans to boost the use of technology to make patients’ lives more convenient by having access to electronic records and online appointments, prescriptions, and consultations. The hope is that new initiatives will also allow doctors to provide faster diagnoses.

While the full details are still being ironed out by the Department of Health and NHS England, video-links, health apps, and free WiFi are just some of new investments set to be brought in to remove outdated tech. There are also plans to focus on cybersecurity and data privacy. This investment is set to see the NHS go completely paperless from 2020, with supporters believing that it will greatly improve the health services and deliver better value for money.

The journey to a digital NHS will be bumpy because the NHS isn’t your average enterprise with an IT infrastructure supporting a few offices and a couple of thousand employees. It employs a staggering 1.5 million people, has a diverse range of stakeholders, and locations are in their thousands.

The road to digital isn’t going to happen overnight, but as Paul Rice said, the NHS will continue its push for digital maturity. While there may be headaches to overcome in the process, we have already started to see proven results from initiatives like PEPPOL and GS1 and from digitising processes and partnering with innovative technology providers. The NHS looks to be headed in the right direction and there will certainly be more digital successes to come.

Charles Henri Royon, VP EMEA, Tradeshift