There are few newly built hospitals around today. Many are positively ancient, with quite a considerable number built in the sixties and seventies.
Most hospitals were built before HIV and the instigation of universal precautions against body fluids. Most were built before the development of a large, ageing population. Most were built before the problems of MRSA and Clostridium difficile. In other words, the majority of hospitals were designed at a time when storage space was not needed to store large, bulky items such as boxes of gloves, incontinence products, alcohol gel and a vast array of dressings.
Add to this the need for hoists, seat-weighing scales and special pressure-relieving mattresses, and you have one crowded ward with equipment everywhere and nowhere to store it.
Wards also hold supplies of items for infrequently carried out procedures. Drawers full of rarely used items can clutter the place up even more.
In this situation the arrival of the stores, all needing to find a home, can leave one feeling overwhelmed. All NHS hospitals I have worked in deliver stores weekly. Unfortunately, it is a two-week cycle with one type of stores arriving on week one and another type on week two. This means wards can receive a two-week supply of any items on delivery day – and a two-week supply of paper towels do occupy a lot of space.
With storage space on the wards at a premium, nurses still have to overstock just in case they have a period of high demand for one item before the next delivery. Wards regularly manage to run out of items and make do with alternatives. How I cringe when I see disposable pants being used instead of wipes to wash patients. I dread to think what the cost differences between the two products are.
Overstocking and understocking of items must cost the NHS millions. Surely there are some ways around these problems?
In my opinion items that are rarely used, which also tend to be expensive, should be stored in an equipment library and accessed as required. A full range of expensive long-term urinary catheters could be held there along with a long list of other items.
A further improvement could include weekly deliveries of all items. It would involve slightly more expense as items would have to be accessed in the main store depot more often but the same number of lorry trips would be involved.
It would not be ideal but would be an improvement on the present. More products would arrive weekly but in much smaller quantities. Wards, as a result, would need to hold much less stock, making them less cluttered places to work in.
Gail Smith is a staff nurse in Cardiff