Procurement, supply chains and patient safety

A blog by Helen Hughes, Chief Executive

  • 25th March 2022

In this blog Patient Safety Learning’s Chief Executive, Helen Hughes, discusses the connection between procurement, supply chains and patient safety, ahead of an upcoming Safety for All Campaign webinar on this topic.

At Patient Safety Learning we believe that to reduce avoidable harm in healthcare we need a transformation in our approach to patient safety. Patient safety should not be treated as one of several strategic priorities, but instead as a core purpose of health and social care. This requires us not just to respond to, and mitigate the risk of, harm, but also to design healthcare to be safe for patients and the staff who work within it.

This approach extends to how we source, supply, and monitor the use of healthcare equipment and products. Procurement and supply chains can be complex and may involve many organisations, with patient safety concerns manifesting themselves in a range of diverse ways, such as in the following three areas:

1. Introduction of new products and technologies

While advances in technology can result in significant improvements in care and treatment, it is vital that there is a clear focus on patient safety in their initial rollout and implementation.

One example of issues that can emerge was highlighted by an investigation by the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) into the procurement, usability and adoption of smart infusion pumps.[1] While these pumps are potentially a means of improving medication safety, HSIB’s investigation highlighted how challenges in implementing their use, such as process changes and requirements for new IT infrastructure, created new patient safety risks.

2. Human factors and user-centric design

When healthcare equipment and products are being developed it is important that human factors and ergonomics approaches are considered in the design and development process, specifically giving weight to how individuals interact with each other and their environment.

Dr Aditi Desai, a Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, highlighted in a blog on the hub the patient safety issues that can emerge when medical instruments and devices, such as operating theatre tables, are not designed in a user-centric manner.[2]

3. Patient outcomes

In addition to considering patient safety in the design and development of healthcare equipment and products, we also need to ensure this in relation to their ongoing use. An important part of this is monitoring the quality of care they deliver from the patient's perspective, through systems such as Patient Reported Outcome Measures (PROMs).

Considering how the healthcare system responded to reports of harmful side effects from medicines and medical devices, a key issue highlighted by the Independent Medicines and Medical Devices Safety (IMMDS) Review was inadequate data on patient outcomes.[3] The Review highlighted the need to collect data far more widely and routinely than we do currently, ensuring we can assess the benefits and patient safety risks associated with current and new interventions.

Upcoming webinar

It is important that we do not take patient safety in procurement and supply chain processes for granted. We need to take active steps to embed this in the design, development and delivery of new equipment and products and avoid safety considerations simply becoming an afterthought. I hope you will be able to join me at a Safety for All Campaign webinar discussing these issues and more on Wednesday 30 March 2022 from 10am-12pm.

Held in partnership with NHS Supply Chain, this will be chaired by Patient Safety Learning’s Chair, Jonathan Hazan, and will include expert speakers from NHS Supply Chain, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, Clinical Human Factors Group, Association for Perioperative Practice, and industry.

You can find the full webinar programme here.

You can join us on the day using this Microsoft teams link here.


[1] HSIB, Procurement, usability and adoption of ‘smart’ infusion pumps, 3 December 2020.

[2] Aditi Desai, Absence of user-centric design: a threat to patient safety, Patient Safety Learning’s the hub, 13 April 2021.

[3] The IMMDS Review, First Do No Harm: The report of the IMMDS Review, 21 July 2020.

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