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Small changes, big differences

Traffic Light Support System

NHS Supply Chain

The NHS spends £4.5 billion each year on clinical supplies. With constant pressure on budgets, NHS Supply Chain were keen to develop a process by which staff at all levels could be involved in better, more informed decisions around which products they use.

Helping to raise awareness around how clinical supplies could be used more efficiently is not a new concept. One popular approach already used by some trusts has helped to increase awareness of costs.

Labelling supplies with their unit costs was considered too time-intensive to manage, and staff were at risk of becoming blind to a sea of stickers.

A simpler, quicker and more visual solution was developed, using fewer, more visible stickers with a longer shelf life to be used as part of a flexible process which could be tailored to each site.

Traffic Light Support System

NHS Supply Chain’s Clinical Nurse Advisor Karen Hudson and Shelley Scothorne from their Communications team devised the Traffic Light Support System, a simple red (think), amber (consider) and green (go) sticker system for clinical supplies in the stock room.

The purpose was to help raise awareness of the cost of clinical supplies, identify where relevant alternatives are available, and to encourage staff to think before using the most expensive items.

Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust (PAT) agreed to support a three-month pilot of the system.

PAT’s project team led the pilot which included the Head of Procurement, Chief Nurse, Assistant Operations Manager and Senior Supplies Assistant from Materials Management.

The approach

Aware that the system needed to work across different types and sizes of stockrooms and storage areas, they identified 11 suitable sites and wards.

When selecting the products for the pilot, the team focused on small, easy-to-use and frequently used items. As supplies are often selected from trollies in wards, the system needed to work in static storage areas as well as mobile ones.

Eye-catching, wipeable stickers, a user guide and posters were included in the toolkit.

The pilot ran from July to November 2014 and was reviewed on implementation, after six weeks, and at the end. Relevant teams were provided with regular updates throughout the pilot to make sure they were fully engaged.

The results

At the beginning of the pilot, a survey revealed lows levels of engagement around procurement. The project was a good opportunity to put procurement at the front of people’s minds.

A survey at the end of the pilot showed that the Traffic Light Support System had raised awareness of the cost of clinical supplies.

Over half of the teams understood that a red sticker on a product drawer was to highlight that there may be a cost effective alternative and to think twice before using it.

Staff were not always aware of the cost of clinical supplies, as they were not directly involved in purchasing decisions. This pilot gave them the opportunity to make savings.

As well as achieving its primary goal, in every area the Traffic Light Support System was piloted, other new and innovative ways to drive efficiencies and savings were discussed.