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Taking stock: how supply chains are making waves in the NHS

(Image credit: Image Credit: Marbury / Shutterstock)

According to recently-published statistics from the NHS, there were 25,475 last-minute operation cancellations in the first three months of 2018. That is the highest total since official records began in 1994.

The main reason is lack of hospital beds. But there are others. It could be a lack of available surgeons and anesthetists for example, or bottlenecks caused by over-pressured A&E departments.

But it can also be caused by quite avoidable problems – like a lack of key clinical supplies and equipment. 

In a huge organization like the NHS, it’s all too easy for this kind of thing to happen. Things go missing, or are not where they should be. Keeping stock of supplies and making sure the right equipment is where it needs to be is a massive logistical challenge.

Genesis Automation is working with the NHS to  minimise the impact of such problems.

Our automated traceability and inventory management system helps healthcare providers address poor stock control in much the same way a supermarket chain would. 

The  integrated system captures virtually any kind of tracking code (barcode, 2D matrix, QR, etc.) including UDI, making it simple and easy to track supplies by batch, lot numbers, and expiry dates. The upshot is that we can make sure the right piece of equipment is where it should be when it is needed.


Genesis has been working with NHS Trusts since 2012, when the UK government launched Scan4Safety, a £12m project to introduce barcoding into six NHS Trusts. Developed in response to the PIP breast implant scandal, the government called on a small number of market-leading technology firms including Genesis Automation to explore what difference better supply chain management might make. Initially, Scan4Safety was expected to deliver savings of £800 million to the NHS over seven years. A year after tests began, that estimate was increased to £1 billion.

On the back of Scan4Safety, Genesis Automation has been able to expand and deepen its relationship with NHS Trusts, so that today we are working with 27 NHS hospitals across the UK nations and regions. In 2017, for example, Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust selected our supply chain management technology to increase its traceability of medical supplies. The result has been cost reductions, effective device recall execution and better visibility of procedure costs.

Others to have partnered with Genesis Automation recently include Salford Royal, Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust and Hull and East Yorkshire NHS Trust. In certain cases, it has been possible to directly assess the savings achieved. Another Genesis customer, Doncaster & Bassetlaw NHS Trust, saved £700,000 on Loan Kits over 12 months.

What can the NHS learn from other industries?

The effectiveness of our solution is, in part, down to the fact that the team behind Genesis Automation built their supply chain expertise in highly competitive industrial sectors. We brought a mindset that understood how concepts like just in time and lean manufacturing could be embraced in the NHS, making it more efficient while also boosting patient care and safety. Data from one of our sites shows that releasing nurses from manual stock control freed up 4,000 clinical hours over a year – all much-needed time to be spent with patients, not spreadsheets.

The beauty of our solution is not just that it helps hospitals get drugs, surgical tools, implants and replacement joints from A to B by a specified date and time. In an era obsessed with the importance of ‘Big Data’, our totally-tracked solution also builds up a picture over time that enables healthcare providers to do their jobs more efficiently, effectively and time-sensitively. 

Smarter purchasing decisions

Let’s suppose, for example, that our system flags up the fact that one type of hip replacement wears out more easily than another. This translates as an opportunity for NHS hospitals to change their purchasing decisions so as to reduce the number of times a person might come back to them for replacements during their lifetime. Or let’s imagine that one NHS Trust is performing a procedure much more cheaply than another to the same standard. This may enable the more expensive Trust to save money and divert it into surgeon/anaesthetist hours.

There is a vital proactive component to what we do. If stock levels on an item are getting low, our system flags it up. Likewise with items that are getting near their expiry date – and we’re not just talking medication. If a £50,000 implant has a limited shelf life then it’s important everyone knows that. 

There is also the issue of what healthcare practitioners called ‘never events’ – ie preventable serious mistakes endangering patient welfare. This year, a government report estimated that NHS medication errors contribute to 22,000 deaths a year. With our emphasis on transparency and tracking, there is a chance that some mistakes could be rectified before too much harm is done (perhaps by recalling faulty implants, or medication that has been mis-prescribed). Imagine the benefit if just a small percentage of these error-related deaths could be prevented through better supply chain management.

Investment for expansion

The potential of improved supply chains to transform health has been noted, as evidence by Genesis Automation recently securing £20 million in new private equity funding to support our expansion into North America and Europe. We have just signed our first contracts in the state of Texas and it has been interesting to observe how private organisations within healthcare are just as much in need of supply chain management solutions as their publicly-funded counterparts.

It’s notable that some of the most efficient and successful organisations in the world have all mastered the science of a tight supply chain, so now is the perfect time to export some of that expertise and learning to the business of health.

Noel O’Hanlon, CEO of Genesis Automation (opens in new tab) 

Image Credit: Marbury / Shutterstock

Noel O’Hanlon is CEO and founder of Genesis Automation, leading the development of Genesis's patient safety, implant recall, cost reduction & supply chain management tool for hospitals and suppliers.