Nurses will be encouraged to look for ways to save money on essentials, such as gloves and syringes, as part of a major campaign being developed by the Royal College of Nursing and NHS Supply Chain.
The campaign, which is still in its planning stages, will highlight how nurses on the ground can contribute to making cost savings – and ultimately help protect nursing jobs.
“This is about all of us taking a little bit of responsibility. If we don’t make changes then our NHS is not going to be sustainable”
Organisers estimate nurses working together with procurement managers could save more than £30m – the equivalent of 1,000 nursing jobs – just by streamlining the purchasing of basics like wipes, incontinence products and cannulae.
The campaign is the brainchild of Mandie Sunderland, chief nurse at Pennine Acute Hospitals Trust and the RCN’s representative on the NHS Supply Chain’s customer board. She told Nursing Times she was keen to identify ways nurses could contribute to boosting efficiency and making savings “to protect the frontline”.
She said she was inspired by the success of a project to standardise products while she was chief nurse at Heart of England Foundation Trust, which saved £700,000 in one year.
“That’s quite a lot of nursing jobs. If you can do that in one trust imagine how much we can save if we do it across the NHS,” she told Nursing Times. “I don’t want to be looking to save money from my nursing budget, so I would rather nurses looked to see if we can do things differently through what is essentially good housekeeping.”
The campaign, which is due to launch officially in January next year, will feature a range of resources for nurses plus support and advice from the national procurement body NHS Supply Chain.
It could also include a spot of healthy competition with nursing teams challenged to see who can save the most money.
Some of the resources are due to be tested at Pennine Acute and include a card that sets out the potential savings from getter better deals on clinical products – spelt out in numbers of nursing jobs.
For example, the partners estimate it would be possible to save £6.9m on exam gloves – which could equal 230 nurses – and £5.48m on disposable wipes, cleaning cloths and associated products – about 182 nurses.
“If we can help trusts and nurses make savings, then there is more money to ideally to protect the frontline”
The trust has also just started using nurse-shaped red, amber and green stickers in storerooms to flag up the most expensive items, those that are mid-price and the cheaper products.
“We’re looking at what we can do to make nurses aware of the cost of what we use,” said Ms Sunderland. “We tend to just open a drawer and get out what we need and go away.
“This is about all of us taking a little bit of responsibility,” she said. “If we don’t make changes then our NHS is not going to be sustainable.”
Rosalyn Sands, stakeholder manager for NHS Supply Chain, which manages the sourcing, delivery and supply of healthcare products and food to the NHS, noted that she normally worked with heads of procurement.
However, she said clinicians like nurses made decisions every day about the products they used and were often responsible for online ordering, so had a vital role in helping the NHS save money.
“If we can help trusts and nurses make savings, then the idea is there is more money to go round elsewhere and ideally to protect the frontline,” she said. “One of the key ways to save money is to standardise, so instead of buying five different kinds of gloves, just buy one or two.
“People can also look at the way they order things – are they ordering five times a month rather than once a month and ordering in bulk?”
“We don’t think it is right to complain about something without trying to find solutions”
The campaign has the working title of Nurses Take Control and another key element will be encouraging nurses to work more closely with procurement professionals.
“One of the first things we’ll be saying is to make friends with the people who are procuring in your organisation – make sure you know what they are doing and they know what you’re doing,” said Janet Davies, director of nursing and service delivery at the RCN.
“What we know is that where these conversations happen, that’s where we’re seeing the good results.”
As well as saving money, those behind the campaign say standardising products across trusts could help improve patient safety by reducing the risk of nurses struggling to use items they are not familiar with. They claim the campaign will not add to the workload of already over-stretched frontline nurses under pressure due to current staffing shortages.
“We’re very concerned about funding in the NHS and about the number of nursing posts that were going in order to save money – although that is changing at last,” said Ms Davies. “However, we don’t think it is right to complain about something without trying to find solutions.
“What we’re hoping is this won’t be massively time-consuming,” she added. “It’s the sort of work people are already doing as part of their clinical role. There may be times when people have to get together to have a conversation, but that will be time invested well.”
Ms Davies said a number of RCN members who work in procurement would be supporting the project. “There are some nurses who are focusing on this and doing some fantastic work already so we want to harness the energy of those people as well,” she said.
The organisers are keen to get nurses and healthcare assistants involved in shaping the campaign and will be staging focus groups during the summer and early autumn.
- Nurses interested in getting involved can contact the RCN or email Rosalyn Sands at Rosalyn.Sands@supplychain.nhs.uk