Here’s how Scan4Safety’s Barcode Technology is Streamlining the NHS Supply Chain to save the UK £1 Billion

NHS nurses spend roughly 4,000 hours each year manually re-ordering equipment and supplies. By automating inventory management, the NHS’s Scan4Safety initiative seeks to streamline Procurement, reduce human error and free up valuable time for patient-care. In fact, it’s estimated to save the NHS £1 bn.

In 2016, six NHS trusts adopted the Scan4Safetey initiative introducing barcodes on medical devices and patient wristbands. Since then, hospitals like Leeds General Infirmary have been reaping the benefits of visibility as patients’ journeys are traceable in near real-time.

Chris Slater, Associate Director of Commercial and Procurement at the Leeds Trust said “We’ve now got a situation where we can scan the patient, we can scan the place, and indeed follow the patient around the hospital and update the whiteboards so that we have almost a real-time visibility of where the patients are.”

And that’s not all; here’s a breakdown of all the benefits that the six demonstrator sites have seen from the Scan4Safetey initiative so far…

Increasing Visibility

If you were to scan the code on a patient’s wristband or medical device in one of the Leeds Teaching Hospitals, you’d be able to find out exactly which staff treated them or used a medical device, and when and where it occurred. Say, for example, a screw in a hip replacement became faulty years after the operation – its history could be quickly traced through a barcode.

In 2010, around 50,000 British women received faulty breast implants – and tracing at risk patients was a real problem for the NHS. Scan4Safety can help curtail the impact of instances like the PIP implant catastrophe. If all goes to plan, eventually the NHS will have immediate access to a detailed database of information on the efficacy of their medical devices. As a result, they’ll be better equipped to forecast, track down and manage faulty medical devices.

Consultant Cardiologist at Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust, Tim Wells, said, “Not only does this provide us with a level of data and insight that can be used to better challenge clinical practice and variation, helping us to reduce inefficiencies and improve patient experience and outcomes – more importantly it ultimately helps to safeguard our patients from avoidable harm.”

Jeremy Hunt, who was Health Secretary when the £12 million Scan4Safety initiative was introduced, hopes the technology can help decrease the 150 avoidable deaths per week in the NHS which happen due to mistakes made during treatments, such as incorrect blood transfusions or implants. Although the initial costs were substantial for the six pilots at £2 mil per site, Hunt explained, ‘The savings are huge because one of the most expensive things you can do in a trust is to give someone the wrong care.’

A More Efficient Supply Chain

When the NHS was billed £1,500 for a £2 pot of moisturiser (, some serious problems facing its Procurement and inventory management were brought sharply into focus. The Carter Review estimated that the NHS could save over £1 bn through better buying practices.

In addition to creating new levels of patient visibility, Scan4Safety has also set in motion a long overdue revolution of the supply chain, and it’s saving the NHS money already. The barcode system was expected to save the NHS £800 million. A year after the programme was introduced, that estimate was revised upwards, to £1bn (

Scan4Safety’s stock visibility is tied to an automatic re-ordering system which means medical workers can count on the availability of essential equipment and drugs when it’s most important. Making sure the right equipment is available is vital when it comes to stocking supplies used in theaters. The automatic re-ordering twinned with near real-time visibility will help avoid unnecessary cancellations for patients awaiting operations.

The barcode system also streamlines purchasing decisions by providing a clear picture of available stock to put a stop to over-ordering. The codes on medical supplies carry safety information including the use-by-date, so Scan4Safety will give medical workers better visibility into which drugs need to be used up as they approach their expiry dates. The new inventory management will also highlight variations in prices paid for stock to bring attention to costly practices before they get out of hand.

When asked what NHS Supply Chain would change through the programme, Gillian Fox, Head of the Scan4Safety programme at NHS Supply Chain said,

"We established our eProcurement programme firstly to ensure we are compliant with the milestones published by the Scan4Safety initiative. Secondly, we are now looking at how, by using these standards, we can drive new capability for our customers and enable compliance to the European Medical Device Regulations, which have been published this year."

Make sure to download the LogiMed agenda to find out what other great speakers, sessions and activities we’ve got planned this year.

Return to Blog