Let's return to our interview with Owen Inglis-Humphrey and the NHS GS1 demonstrators - the programme to show what product barcoding and associated standards can do to make the health service more efficient, cost effective and safer. Six Trusts from around the country have now been given £2 million each by the Department of Health to implement GS1 and demonstrate to the whole health network what can be achieved through this coding approach and related process improvements.
Owen is one of the key architects of the programme, and he talks about the purpose of the programme being to "grow the capability and capacity of the NHS to change". It is also designed to reduce the costs for future adopting Trusts after the six chosen demonstrators have implemented their work. In what way, we asked?
For example, he says, the initial projects will "enable technology providers to make some investments and get into the right state to work under new process". There may also be opportunities to share human resource, perhaps seconding people into a demonstrator site who can then come back to their own Trust with the relevant experience and knowledge.
We then talked about the methodology for selecting the demonstrators. Back in 2014 all acute Trusts (hospitals) were asked to nominate a GS1 / PEPPOL lead and provide the centre with an adoption plan. Some 52 have so far responded. Last May, Trusts were told money was available for those who wanted to become demonstrators.
29 Trusts initially expressed an interest, and answered some questions about their own organisation and their plans. Inglis-Humphrey then applied an evaluation process. "We applied a scoring process and took the top 12 through to the short-list. We got a great spread of Trusts - a mix of teaching / non-teaching hospitals, single or multiple sites, level of risk based on the litigation authority data and so on. But geography was not a selection factor”.
He believes that “every one of the 154 acute Trusts could find a Trust like themselves from amongst those 12”. The team then selected three professional services firms and "gave" them 4 of the 12 short-listed Trusts each to work with - that work included planning, internal engagement, and development of a business case - to “get to the position where the Trust Board really buys into the programme”.
Each of the 12 then submitted their "bid" to be a demonstrator. "We ran a fair evaluation process, much as you would for a standard tender. We were not scoring on geography again; it was purely on how good and interesting we felt the proposal was”.
The six who did not make it were disappointed, he says but "I believe they are all still engaged and that they intend to continue with their own programme”. But as we commented, the geography looks a bit odd with nothing in London, West Midlands or the North-West. And who will trek all the way to Cornwall to see what they are doing?
“Every one of the six is a role model for someone. For instance, Cornwall has the devolution agenda and some interesting linkages between health and social care. That will make them very relevant for some other Trusts”.
We asked whether the £12 million funding might have delivered more benefit if it had been spread out more widely.
“In shaping the programme we looked at a number of options including making more, smaller awards. The adoption of the standards has been rumbling on since about 2004 and we now have pockets of activity across the NHS which is great. However, what we still don't have is a single Trust that has it all, fully implemented, that can really show the range of opportunities and challenges. So we decided to restrict the number of sites but “do it all”. The other point was to recognise that putting the standards in is relatively easy. The hard part is to effectively manage the change in a way that secures the adoption now and into the future. That is neither easy nor cheap so once again, restrict the number of sites but do it right was the principle”.
What about the cost to the whole system – suppliers and Trusts? Some argue this will be huge. Is there a business case to justify it at system level? Or will I need to be justified by each Trust to their own Board?
“If we just take the current financial numbers of £2 million per organisation then the cost across all acute trusts is clearly significant. That said, the initial work has shown that the benefits outweigh the costs fairly quickly and that's before we add in the positive impact on safety, improvements to patient experience plus the benefits of better sourcing because we know exactly what is being bought and used. Alongside working to reduce the costs of other trusts adopting the standards, one of the key outputs from these initial sites will be to rigorously test this position. That will inform what happens next”.
So there we have it; many thanks to Owen Inglis-Humphrey for sparing the time and being very open about the programme and answering our questions. We will wait to see what emerges from the demonstrators with great interest.