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Equipping the NHS for future healthcare
Medical equipment is at the heart of a hospital’s operational environment. It plays a critical role in ensuring that patients are treated safely, appropriately and in good time.
If equipment is not available or working to full capacity it will have a direct impact on patient experience and clinical outcomes.
It is therefore essential that the medical equipment estate is working efficiently and effectively. Yet at a time when healthcare providers are tasked with improving the quality of services, while also reducing costs, this has never been harder.
Meanwhile, the National Audit Office report earlier this year outlined the sheer volume of ageing assets that need to be replaced. But despite calls from the Audit Commission to increase equipment spend, scarce capital resources means that acquiring new, high value technology – such as CTs, MRIs and Linear Accelerators – is increasingly difficult.
Smarter equipment strategies
The Public Accounts Committee report ‘Managing high value capital equipment in the NHS in England’, published on 25 October, provided a number of recommendations about how and where the NHS in England should work harder and smarter to drive down procurement costs and maximise value.
To achieve this, healthcare providers need to define and deliver smarter equipment strategies that enable them to identify cost savings, whilst enhancing the quality of services they provide.
Although not a new concept, engagement with an independent service provider is growing in popularity in the acute healthcare sector as an effective way to replace ageing equipment, maintain existing assets and extend services to meet patient demand.
This is partly as a consequence of reduced capital availability. It is also due to vendor-independent organisations moving away from long term and complex contracts to provide flexible and scalable services that meet the current needs of the NHS in England.
For equipment management programmes to be effective, they must be centred on the individual requirements of the Trust. This includes the available finance, clinical services, equipment specification, required length of engagement, age and performance of existing assets, patient demographics, planned and projected service developments, the list goes on. No two Trusts requirements are the same, which is why despite many calls for Trusts to collectively procure equipment and the clear associated benefits, there has been little progress.
Engaging with a vendor independent provider can enable a Trust to benefit from purchasing at scale – whether it is a new CT scanner, or Ultrasound maintenance services – and not be tied to one manufacturer’s equipment specifications or pre-defined service contracts.
Healthcare providers are now also able to fully define the scale, scope and length of the arrangement. This ensures that the solution not only meets the immediate brief but can be adapted to meet changing requirements.
Too often procurement decisions for high value equipment are made on the list price alone. However it is critical to view the cost of equipment across its life, as opposed to just the initial price of acquisition. Factoring in the cost of consumables, training, decommissioning as well as maintenance – especially when informed by real world performance data – presents a very different perspective.
In addition, options for servicing and financial risk management that go beyond basic manufacturer packages will mitigate unexpected costs arising from equipment failure. These allow providers to plan more accurately, safe in the knowledge that equipment will be replaced at the end of its recommended life. What’s more, the healthcare provider can share the risk associated with equipment procurement and ownership, allowing them to focus on the promotion and delivery of services.
It is almost impossible to deliver more efficient services and increase productivity of equipment without accurate and reliable performance data.
However, there are many barriers to collecting this information, including numerous suppliers managing and maintaining their own equipment and a lack of joined up thinking between departments and Trusts.
Despite the complexity, gaining a clear understanding of how the existing equipment portfolio is performing – including uptime and utilisation rates – is critical to defining an effective equipment strategy.
Going forward, the ongoing review and assessment of equipment performance will be vital in identifying under-performing assets before it impacts service levels and clinical outcomes.
With an extended install base – including equipment from a range of manufacturers, running across multiple sites – an independent partner can benchmark performance and ensure that future procurement and service redesign decisions are based on patient need and real-world reliability.
In a sector that is becomingly increasingly competitive, healthcare providers need to think differently about the procurement, management and delivery of all assets.
The high cost of medical equipment, and its critical role in ensuring patient safety and delivering positive clinical outcomes, means that it’s important that healthcare providers evaluate the range of options available to them. This will ensure that they can define and deliver an effective equipment strategy that not only provides measurable efficiency savings but also allows them to take advantage of the new revenue-generating opportunities that a changing and more competitive environment presents.
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