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Strengthening Our Supply Chain

Insights from three comprehensive studies

Over the past three years, the NHS has faced unprecedented challenges stemming from global events like COVID-19, Brexit, the war in Ukraine, and various political and climate disruptions. These events have significantly impacted our supply chain, leading to heightened demand and supply volatility, resulting in critical shortages. Recognising the vulnerabilities exposed by these disruptions, NHS Supply Chain initiated two studies and one pilot program aimed at helping ICSs develop their supply chains, identifying opportunities to fortify resilience, enhance efficiency, and optimise service performance. 

The results offer insights into the challenges and opportunities within our supply chain. By implementing the recommendations, ICSs and trusts can increase resilience and efficiency, contribute to significant cost savings, and improve patient care. It is our hope that these reports serve as an valuable resource for you going forward.

1. National ICS Supply Chain Study

In 2022, NHS Supply Chain, in collaboration with Unipart Consultancy, undertook a National ICS Supply Chain Study. The study revealed the inherent fragility of supply chains across NHS trusts, underscoring the urgent need for investment in systems, skills, resources, and improvement programs. One of the key findings emphasised the low maturity in inventory management across the NHS, measured against the Supply Chain Maturity Model.

The study pinpointed improved inventory management at the local level as the single most significant driver for enhancing quality and resilience. Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) were identified as pivotal in leading supply chain development at various levels – local, regional, and national. Potential savings of up to £11 million per ICS were identified, emphasising inventory management as a core cost and performance driver.

A summary of the study:

  • Uncovers the fragility of supply chains across NHS trusts.
  • Identifies opportunities for ICSs to lead supply chain development.
  • Suggests potential savings of up to £11 million per ICS are possible.

See our Downloads ▼ section to find out more.

2. ICS Inventory Management Pilot

Building on the insights derived from the National ICS Study, a second phase was initiated – dedicated to a pilot program with a single ICS. North Central London was strategically chosen for the pilot due to an established collaborative model, data availability, and resource enthusiasm.

The outcomes of the pilot were noteworthy, demonstrating substantial one-off working capital savings (average ICS £5-8 million, average acute trust £1.3 million) and ongoing operating cost savings (average ICS £1-3 million, average acute trust £500,000). These results underscored the potential benefits of implementing the recommendations at a practical level.

A summary of the pilot:

  • Demonstrates substantial one-off working capital and ongoing operating cost savings.
  • Includes practical outcomes of implementing recommendations from the National ICS Study.

See our Downloads ▼ section to read more about the pilot.

3. Ambulance Trusts Supply Chain Study

Recognising the unique challenges faced by ambulance trusts, a third study delved specifically into their supply chain environment. Engaging with five ambulance trusts, the study assessed their maturity using the Supply Chain Maturity Model, which measures maturity across planning, purchasing, inventory management, storage and warehousing, transport, and returns.

Key findings highlighted the need for collaboration among ambulance trusts, ICSs, and NHS Supply Chain to improve resilience and reduce costs. The study brought to light the intricacies of operating in a vast geographical area, with limited restocking opportunities for ambulances, making inventory management a critical aspect of their supply chain.

A summary of the study:

  • Explores the unique challenges faced by ambulance trusts.
  • Details the critical role of collaboration in improving resilience and reducing costs.

See our Downloads ▼ section for full details.


The collective recommendations from these studies form a comprehensive strategy for strengthening supply chains for the NHS. Priorities include coordinating investment strategies, setting standards for inventory management systems, developing regional oversight, and providing training. Additionally, there is a call for collaboration, shared catalogues, and the development of value-added services with NHS Supply Chain.

Downloads ▼

  • ICS Supply Chain Drive

    National Summary Report November 2023
  • Ambulance Trust Supply Chain Study

    National Summary Report November 2023
  • ICS Supply Chain Pilot

    National Summary Report November 2023