Purchasing healthcare consumables and medical equipment through a central online catalogue is expected to save a consortium of 12 NHS healthcare trusts at least £500,000 a year.
The e-procurement system, delivered by ADB Systems, will also slash the time spent by NHS clinical staff on administrative tasks and ultimately result in improved patient care, according to the NHS manager behind the deal.
The Healthcare Purchasing Consortium (HPC) believes it is the first time that a single online catalogue has connected back to the financial and information systems of several trusts in this way.
Mike Hyatt, head of supply chain and finance at the HPC, told vnunet.com: "Purchasing in the NHS is still antiquated. We wanted to eliminate paper-based requisitioning of products.
"The advantage with this system is that it can operate as a procurement platform in its own right, or link into existing procurement systems and be used to populate online catalogues."
Hyatt explained that a nurse who previously spent several hours a week ordering materials could now spend that time caring for patients.
He also said that participating trusts aimed to reduce costs in real terms by three per cent a year, through achieving economies of scale with fewer suppliers.
Deployment of the ADB system, used to buy everything from surgeon's gloves and bandages to expensive IT and medical equipment, would also stop staff making ad hoc purchases with unapproved suppliers.
NHS trusts involved in the initiative include Sandwell and West Birmingham, University Hospitals and the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital.
Implementation started in December last year and six of the 12 member trusts are now up and running. The project is not due to be completed until September, almost two years after it went out to tender.
But Aidan Rowsome, vice president of sales at ADB, insisted that lack of commitment to a nationwide e-procurement system was stalling investments by other NHS trusts.
The NHS Purchasing and Supply Agency has indicated that a national system is unlikely to be introduced before 2007/8, even though the government has said that it wants to have 20 per cent of all procurement done online by the end of the 2002/03 financial year, and 100 per cent by 2005.
"E-procurement systems in the 1990s were overpriced but now it's back to a really detailed view of IT systems and you really have to cost-justify what you're doing," said Rowsome.
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