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NHS trusts are finding hundreds of clinical and non-clinical products are out of stock with the national supply chain agency, leaving procurement teams scrambling to find alternatives and avoid gaps in supply.

Local procurement specialists have told HSJ the level of disruption is “really quite unprecedented”. It is a significant challenge for procurement and supply chain teams with hundreds of product lines either out of stock, such as canned foods from one supplier, or coming with significant delivery delays, such as a particular line of burns dressing.

There are particular problems with supplies of a plethora of blood collection products. Alternatives have been made available through NHS Supply Chain’s demand management system but this can have a knock-on effect, causing a surge in demand for the alternatives leading to further supply disruption.

NHS England has no plans to ration blood tests, and a spokesman said patients should continue to attend blood tests and other appointments as normal.

Significant resource is being spent managing the disruption and sourcing alternative products while dealing with mounting cost pressures from spiraling inflation, one procurement lead explained.

The supply chain upheaval stems from increased demand, as health services around the world recover from the pandemic, combined with ongoing manufacturing and supply problems stemming from rising fuel costs, covid, and war in Ukraine.

One procurement specialist told HSJ the current situation was worse than the crisis in supply of personal protective equipment in spring 2020 because back then at least trusts knew what to expect. Now, they said, they do not know what products will be out of stock from one day to the next.

More than 300 items that trusts usually order are not available, they explained. “We find alternatives but then they go out of stock as everyone then tries to order that. The consequences to care are that staff have unfamiliar products on shelves, or worse we run out completely.”

HSJ has not found instances where trusts have had to cancel procedures, but the stockouts can disrupt clinical services as clinicians often have to adapt their practices to accommodate new protocols for a replacement product from a different supplier.

The Health Care Supply Association – the representative body for NHS procurement professionals – told HSJ it “acknowledges the frustration and collective effort being exerted by NHS procurement and supply chain colleagues”.

A spokesperson for NHS Supply Chain told HSJ: “Current supply challenges are driven by global factors outside of NHS Supply Chain’s control, reflected across all industry sectors not just in health.

“NHS Supply Chain is aware there are broader pressures on global supply chains and global shipping of products, which is having an impact on the supplies of certain products. We continue to work with NHS partners to support them with their supply needs and continuity of supply, ensuring they can continue to deliver patient care.”

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Source: HSJ

Date: 8 July

Posted in News on Jul 08, 2022

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