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Supporting nurses deliver on-going efficiencies in the purchase and use of clinical supplies with the Traffic Light Support System.

Tuesday 24 March 2015

We all know that NHS trusts are under financial pressure and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to identify areas where savings can be made, whilst protecting frontline staff and services.

Procurement and purchasing has been highlighted as one of the challenges facing the NHS during this period of austerity. The NHS spends £20 billion every year on goods and services, of that sum £4.5 billion goes on clinical supplies.


As a key organisation supporting the delivery of improved efficiencies and savings to the NHS around the purchasing of clinical supplies, we wanted to focus on how we could support the nursing community in these difficult economic times.

It became clear that helping raise awareness around how clinical supplies could be used more efficiently was not a new concept, with many trusts already investing in their own campaigns. One popular approach identified was the addition of stickers, with prices on shelves, in storage rooms and areas, to raise awareness of the cost of clinical supplies being used.

Feedback on this approach from a number of trusts confirmed that using stickers to increase awareness of cost was helping drive efficiencies. However, it was often difficult and labour intensive to manage, particularly keeping the stickers up to date as prices changed so often. Prices on too many items also meant it was hard not to become blind to a ‘sea of stickers’.


We wanted to take this sticker concept, started by nursing teams across the NHS to highlight cost efficiencies, and develop it into a simple, less time demanding solution.

The stickers needed a longer shelf life, with greater visibility and flexibility to help drive efficiencies and awareness. They also needed to be adaptable enough so they could be tailored to the individual needs of each trust.

Developing and piloting the system

Working with Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust procurement and nursing teams over a three month period, across Fairfield General Hospital and The Royal Oldham Hospital sites, we piloted and further developed the Traffic Light Support System.

‘In order to deliver on-going efficiencies in the purchase and use of clinical supplies and further support the reduction in levels of potential risk of harm to patients, working collaboratively with your relevant clinical nursing teams is essential.’

David Barwell, Head of Procurement
The Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust

The results

From a survey run at the end of the pilot with the nursing teams involved, it was identified that the traffic light support system had raised awareness of the cost of clinical supplies.

Over half of the teams involved advised a red sticker on a product drawer would highlight to them that there may be a cost effective alternative to that product.

‘Empowering our nursing teams on the real differences they can make regarding purchasing and the potential it has to drive efficiencies, savings and improved patient safety is paramount – which the traffic light support system does in a simple and engaging way.’

Mandie Sunderland, Chief Nurse
Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust

Other benefits identified

  • The traffic light support system can help raise awareness of the cost of clinical supplies to your nursing teams.
  • It has great potential to reduce the time spent looking for clinical supplies and to help with standardisation.
  • It helps to get purchasing on the radar of your nursing teams, giving them a platform from which to share new and additional ways to improve patient safety and make savings for your trust.
  • It supports the sharing of good practice

The traffic light support system was also identified in the Clinical Supplies Quality, Safety and Value at the Frontline Nursing Times Survey December 2014, as the most useful tool by nursing teams when considering how to improve safety, quality and value in their organisation by looking at the clinical supplies they buy.

Want to implement the system in your trust? To download the full case study, your user guide and order your free Traffic Light Support System starter pack visit Traffic Light Support System.

Delivering value to the NHS