What does Scan4Safety mean for the NHS?

It’s stated that Scan4Safety is a pioneering programme led by the Department of Health that is improving patient safety, increasing clinical productivity and driving operational efficiency in the NHS.  Scan4Safety is taking lessons from other sectors to improve traceability and efficiency in the NHS through the use of international barcoding standards (GS1 to be precise) and common ways of interacting (PEPPOL).

The barcode technology used in major industries such as aerospace and retail is being introduced to the NHS in England to improve patient safety.  Barcodes are being placed on items such as breast implants, replacement hips, medication and surgical tools.

The £12 million Department of Health ‘Scan4Safety’ project is already helping staff to quickly and easily track each patient through their hospital journey.  From the unique barcodes on wristbands patients receive when they enter hospital, to the barcodes used to record their medication and the equipment used in their treatment, each code can be scanned to show which member of staff administered each treatment, at what time and where.

By using barcodes, anything that might develop a fault years later, for example a screw used in a knee operation or breast implant, can be traced.  The details, such as when it was used and the surgeon who carried out the procedure, can be found quickly and easily. This technology will also help to eliminate avoidable harm in hospitals, including errors such as patients being administered the wrong drugs and surgery being performed on the wrong part of the body.

We all know that the NHS is under pressure financially and there are constant demands to improve patient outcomes for a growing and aging population. At the recent GS1 Healthcare Conference, there were a number of very high profile speakers, from the Department of Health & Social Care, NHS England, NHS Improvement, the General Medical Council, the Health Service Journal and many more, notably from the Scan4Safety demonstrator sites. Each of them had their own particular take on the benefits, but the overwhelming message was that this is not only a way to save money on the Supply Chain, but also a major opportunity to improve patient care and safety – prompting the organisers to capture Jeremy Hunt’s often used strap line and encourage delegates to tweet #bettercarecostsless.

The potential far-reaching nature of the Scan4Safety Track and Trace capability to follow who did what to who, where, when and with what is truly impressive. However, as a consequence, the introduction of Scan4Safety to Trusts is a complex programme needing careful planning, collaboration between multiple stakeholders and a recognition that this is a marathon not a sprint. The demonstrator sites were unanimous in their view that the ‘Big Data’ available by using Scan4Safety technology resulted in better informed decision-making across the whole Trust setting.

So, is Scan4Safety a game changer? It could be, but, some courageous decisions by Trusts to ‘Invest to Save’ are needed – if the driver is improved outcomes for patients, I have no doubt it will also deliver significant savings. Viewed in this way, it offers hope to a struggling NHS.

For more see the Scan4Safety website.