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Reaping rewards of a standard approach

Efficiency savings need not be merely quantified in simple cash terms. Standardising products and methods also improves use of staff time and can reduce mistakes when dealing with patients on wards and in theatre.Compassionate nursing and efficiency are two sides of the same coin.

With patient-centred care high on every agenda, talk about standardising products and procedures in hospitals can sound counter-intuitive.

Picture credit: Alamy

But many nurses agree standardisation has much to offer.

Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust director of nursing Janice Sigsworth says it involves ‘taking the best and making sure that it is done throughout the organisation’.

At its simplest, using standard equipment offers potential savings without losing quality – if end users, such as nurses, are consulted about what to buy.

It is why standardising equipment is popular in procurement departments.

Professor Sigsworth says it can offer trusts economies of scale when ordering consumables.

‘If you buy in bulk, generally it is cheaper,’ she says. ‘Standardisation has to be the right thing to do.’

In his recent efficiency report, Lord Carter argues best practice is to have 6,000-9,000 products available at only slightly varying prices. ‘In the NHS there can be 500,000 lines with price differences over 35%.’

Reducing this could save up to 20% on the bill for everyday items such as dressings and syringes.

Professor Sigsworth adds that standardisation can make life easier for staffmoving within a trust or within the same hospital: ‘It gives you the opportunity to have standardised training.’

Safety positives

At Derby Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, blood pressure cuffcosts have been cut by buying standard cuffs in different sizes, with disposable and single-use versions. Part of the saving has been in staff hours; the new cuffs mean faster readings, eliminating time once spent searching for a matching connector.

Standardised treatment rooms in emergency departments cut the time doctors and nurses spend searching for equipment – a positive for patient safety.

Similarly, sticking to the same bundle of care can mean better safety outcomes for each patient.

A diabetic patient is at less risk of harm if a set series of checks is carried out regularly and the results acted on, to avoid costly complications developing.

Likewise, a surgical team using a World Health Organization surgical check list in theatre cuts chances of retained swabs that need a second operation to remove.

Monitor nursing director Ruth May says: ‘Standardisation of process is a route to achieving significant cost savings.’

Another example is ensuring all discharges are done by midday, if possible and appropriate.

‘The patient gets a better quality experience,’ she says.

If the hospital frees up beds earlier in the day, it helps the flow of patients through the hospital.

Standardising processes for preventing pressure ulcers nationwide has saved money, while improving the quality of life and outcomes for patients.

This is where efficiency meets compassionate nursing.

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