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Campaign calls for nurses to be more involved in NHS purchasing

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A campaign has been launched today with the aim of using nurses’ knowledge of essential items, such as gloves and syringes, to buy equipment more efficiently and save the NHS money.

The Small Changes, Big Difference campaign is a joint initiative by the Royal College of Nursing, NHS Supply Chain and the Clinical Procurement Specialist Network.

The aim is to help the nursing workforce use its “unparalleled knowledge and experience” to help trusts find savings that could potentially be spent on extra staff.

“This campaign aims to help nurses work with procurement team”

Janet Davies

Those behind the idea have estimated that nurses working closely together with procurement managers could save more than £30m – the equivalent of 1,000 nursing jobs – by streamlining the buying of basics, such as wipes and incontinence products.

Nursing Times first revealed initial plans for the campaign last year and in December carried out a survey with the RCN and NHS Supply Chain to help inform its development and launch.

The survey of 850 nurses found that over 80% of respondents thought there was scope to save money in their trust, and a further 86% believed patient safety would be improved if nurses had greater involvement in purchasing.

However, the findings also revealed barriers to nurses getting involved in purchasing, with a quarter saying they were currently not allowed to and a further 28% that they did not have enough time.

“There has never been a better time to look at what nurses are buying and find those opportunities to save money”

Mandie Sunderland

The campaign is the brainchild of Mandie Sunderland, chief nurse at Nottingham University Hospitals Trust.

She was inspired by the success of a project to standardise products while chief nurse at Heart of England Foundation Trust, which saved £700,000 in one year.

Ms Sunderland said: “There has never been a better time to look at what nurses are buying and find those opportunities to save money, which will at the same time help protect patient safety and reduce the amount of waste in medical products.

“As the individuals at the heart of this process, we as nurses are in the best possible position to influence it,” she added.

“For every £30,000 we save, that is one band 5 nurse we are saving,” she said. “When you think about it like that, it’s easy to do the right thing.

“We should have standardised drug charts and obs charts – because the print costs on trusts creating their own are astronomical on those two things alone.”

But Ms Sunderland said it was not just about money, adding: “There has not been a trust I have worked in that hasn’t made a mistake through use of different equipment” and she advocated standardisation as vital.”

Janet Davies, director of nursing at the RCN, described nursing staff as the “backbone of the NHS”, but warned they were too often “not given a say in the big decisions”.  

“No one knows which products work well and which don’t better than nurses, so involving nurses in procurement decisions is good for patient care,” she said.

“This campaign aims to help nurses work with procurement teams, and inspire them with some great examples of nurses who have saved their trusts money and improved patient care,” she added.

Ms Davies also called on trusts to make the most of the “untapped knowledge” possessed by nursing staff and make it easier for them to get involved with procurement decisions.

As part of the campaign, online resources have been developed to help nurses and managers to make savings, including case studies and how-to guides.

“Nurses are 70% of the workforce, and are therefore 70% of the solution” said  Rose Gallagher, the RCN’s profession lead for infection prevention and control, while urging nurses to use the toolkit created for them by this campaign.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Michael Bond

    This should be linked to nurses being involved with use of information (collection and use of it). Nurses capture most information as well as using most items daily in the health service.
    "Untapped" is right. We should use the knowledge we have and collect every day.

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  • As a NHS Buyer...I battle every day to keep Nurses ( & other clinical staff) in my organisation on track (& whilst every Trust should have a "Senior Nurse Advisor" available to the Procurement Dept) the idea that all Nurses should be involved in procurement is just nonsense.

    Further more I doubt than Nurses really have any useful "knowledge of essential items", such as gloves and syringes, or that they can buy equipment more efficiently and save the NHS money.

    There's a massive difference between shopping and purchasing and the NHS needs to be reminded of that fact now and again !!

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