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Essential Specifications

31 January 2023

Why are they needed?

The overriding purpose of Essential Specifications is to ensure that products procured by NHS Supply Chain are safe, fit for purpose and meet the needs of Health and Care Professionals as well as patient and carer needs. This is achieved through the introduction of a collaborative due diligence process that takes a holistic view of specification development.

At NHS Supply Chain, our robust essential product specification processes are a key part of our proactive patient safety offer. These processes enable us to design in product requirements for products, before we buy them, and this provides assurance that the products that are purchased through us are safe and fit for purpose.

Tracey Cammish, Patient Safety and Clinical Intelligence Lead, NHS Supply Chain

What do they include?

An Essential Specification consists of several key areas. Addressing these as part of specification development helps to ensure that products are fit for purpose and helps address any concerns around quality and safety. The key areas are:

  • Product Information – the means of identifying the product.
  • Regulatory and Safety Standards – an outline of any medical device classifications, regulatory approvals or national standards.
  • Technical and Physical Requirements – what is the product required to do and what properties should it possess.
  • Data Intelligence – provide evidence that any relevant national guidance, strategies or research has been incorporated into the Essential Specification.
  • Human Factors – understand how users interact with and use the product.
  • Sustainability – outline any sustainability concerns around the product.

Which products?

To help ensure that we focus on the right products, we have developed a stratification tool that uses a variety of data sources (including safety issues and complaints) to rank frameworks as high, moderate or low. This ranking then determines how many Essential Specifications are required per framework.

As of February 2023, 90% of our frameworks have been through this due diligence process, putting the needs of our customers front and centre. Some notable examples include:

  • Tourniquets – as a response to a series of complaints around tourniquets snapping, NHS Supply Chain undertook rigorous testing to develop a standard that would prevent similar issues occurring in the future.
  • Electrodes – following patient safety alerts relating to the Electrodes framework, NHS Supply Chain produced Essential Specifications as mitigation against future issues, focusing on Adult ECG electrodes and Foetal scalp electrodes.
  • Environmental Decontamination – this saw NHS Supply Chain convene a supplier roundtable to identify what standards should be used for the products in this new area.

The future

Essential Specifications will continue to provide NHS Supply Chain with a means of ensuring that products are fit for purpose, safe and meet the needs of the end user. For further information, please contact us.

Patient Safety Team