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Increased collaboration

IBMS Chief Executive David Wells on supply chain disruption for pathology services.

In October last year, we experienced over a month of disruption to pathology services, which was triggered by disruption to a major supplier’s ability to supply stock. These supply issues were exacerbated by the “just-in-time” stock control approach of individual hospitals and suppliers and, with the short shelf life of some diagnostic products, this quickly led to critical stock issues.

At the height of this incident, 55% of hospitals in England and Wales were at red or amber for one or more of their services being monitored and some sites were hours away from running out of the reagents needed to maintain their emergency department services.

Pathology services had been running at full speed since the end of February but in England the 29 networks pulled together to keep hospitals open 24 hours a day. Reagent and chemical supplies were limited, so the answer lay in trusting the recovery approach taken by the national team and the supplier and individual hospitals to ensure that critical supplies got to organisations in greatest need.

It’s worth noting that there was never less than six weeks’ worth of the required stocks in the country – they just weren’t accessible. It was only by working together in new ways that we got everything to where it needed to be.

During August and September this year, we’ve seen another supply issue – with a scarcity of blood test tubes after the routine closure of a manufacturing facility. Again, due to “just-in-time” models and low supplier diversity, our highly skilled profession has had to step up to reduce demand and use its new networks to share stocks.

Looking forward, the regulation of the safety and performance of products used in testing services will be changing significantly. The changes to regulation are already beginning to affect products available on the market in the UK. We need to make sure that this does not lead to yet another critical issue that threatens to disrupt services and patient safety.

The new regulations are intended to improve product quality and clinical performance requirements, not reduce the supplier pool or cause preventable supply issues or the loss of the availability of key tests. Personally, I think the changes will make some great new things possible – but I also feel that they will pale compared to the great new things our profession has been achieving through our increased collaboration, greater visibility and clearer and louder voice.

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