Anna Micklewright explains why the Department of Health’ introduction of PEPPOL to transfer electronic orders and invoices will have a hugely beneficial impact to the healthcare in the UK.
Strategies to improve efficiency are shifting focus
The Department of Health’ strategies to improve efficiency in the healthcare sector are vast and complex. The focus has been on improving front line services and patient outcomes, but it is now shifting to how to improve the supply chain systems that allow the NHS to provide good quality healthcare to the UK citizens. The introduction of PEPPOL to transfer electronic orders and invoices is a step in this direction and will have a hugely beneficial impact to the healthcare in the UK.
However, these are not two distinct work streams. The Department of Health and those involved in the creation of the eProcurement Strategy understand that one of the fundamental success criteria in creating a ‘healthy healthcare’ is to provide a platform that promotes a better understanding of how hospitals and healthcare suppliers can work together more efficiently to meet the challenges the UK faces; an aging population, an increased prevalence of patients with long-term conditions and a decreasing budget to manage them.
A challenging task
Procurement professionals in the NHS have a difficult job. I should know – I did it! I spent a lot of my career in the NHS working in procurement at the Department of Health, collaborative procurement and individual hospital trusts. Nobody should underestimate the task to try to influence budgets you find hard to understand and interrogate. This is a consistent challenge whether you procure within a hospital, a hub or in a national procurement organisation. It is a challenge that, though improved, is not vastly changed to when I started in the role years ago.
”The introduction of PEPPOL will have a huge beneficial impact to the healthcare in the UK.”
Healthcare suppliers have an equally, if not a more, difficult job. I never understood this as an NHS procurement professional. I am partly ashamed that I did not understand or did not care. I concentrated on ensuring my suppliers had an order. I did not overly focus on the quality of that order or understand the implications if it was not of high quality. I did as many procurement professionals did… I focussed on the price on that order.
Costly quality assurance
It was not until I started working with some of the largest healthcare suppliers that I understood how much the care of patients relies on the healthcare suppliers’ customer service team! They tirelessly work to understand the unique ordering behaviours of each hospital. Each healthcare supplier has their own ‘David Attenborough like’ experts who are able to psychically understand the unwritten requests of their customers through an in-depth study of their customer’s native environment.
They can translate the most abstract request to the requirement of a particular small screw to fix an old ladies hip, they miraculously determine whether it is her left or right hip (often receiving requests for both) they even determine the same lady is not having her hip done three times (when they get duplicate requests). They maintain the services flowing with the exact same dedication and care for the patient that professionals in the NHS have. Whilst I was focussed on the price on that order, I never acknowledged or understood the cost to manage it. In retrospect, the costs to manage the order often surpassed the value of the goods I was ordering.
PEPPOL will help streamline the NHS supply chain
The Department of Health’s strategy relating to PEPPOL will shine a light on these hidden costs within the NHS supply chain and allow them to be removed for the benefit of both the hospital and the supplier.
The PEPPOL infrastructure will also ensure everyone involved in the sustainability of the NHS supply chain will have their own torch (i.e. the costs of deploying PEPPOL are not cost prohibitive). The deployment of PEPPOL alongside the introduction of GS1 standards will introduce some consistency and accuracy into a process that has been largely paper-based, archaic and inaccurate.
“PEPPOL will shine a light on the hidden costs within the NHS supply chain and allow them to be removed.”
This means that procurement professionals will have access to high-quality sourcing data and that supplier customer service teams can focus on more qualitative actions with their customers.
Efficient processes enable a focus on patient care
The hidden costs and wastage in the NHS supply chain are largely under-analysed or misunderstood. I know I was astounded at the wastage in consignment processes, loan kits and many of the other non-standard orders that exist in such a complex supply chain. Consistency of process alongside the PEPPOL technology will help customers and suppliers work together to take the hidden costs out of these processes and divert them back to continued supplier innovation and patient care.