The safe storage of medicines in hospitals and pharmacy are paramount to reducing waste. The rising cost of medicines is a major focus for a healthcare sector that is struggling with financial challenges. In the NHS, for example, it is estimated that annual spending on medicines rose from around £12bn to £18.2bn in the seven years up to 2017/18.
There are numerous initiatives to address these rises, from supply chain negotiations to prescribing policies. But one area that is often overlooked is the cost that arises from medicines being discarded. Not all waste is avoidable, of course but one study found that up to half of overall wastage could be prevented. The safe storage of medicines by pharmacy has an important part to play in reducing waste.
“Tutela quickly proved its worth, when the compressor failed for our main cold store, causing temperatures to increase. This store holds medicines to the value of £500,000. The robust monitoring provided by Tutela meant we were able to act quickly, saving our valuable stock by transferring it to alternative storage.” Melanie Goodrum, Acting-Up Operations Manager, Pharmacy Quality Services at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
There are many reasons why a proportion of medicines are thrown away, including unsuitable storage conditions and failure to identify expiration dates.
The correct storage of temperature-sensitive pharmaceutical inventory has traditionally relied on staff performing regular checks on fridges and freezers.
However, staff shortages and increasing healthcare demands have combined to make routine temperature and inventory checks more difficult to maintain.
According to the GPhC’s Learning From Inspections report, the standards most commonly missed relate to managing medicines and devices, managing risks and keeping records.
As a result, growing number of hospitals, pharmacies, GP surgeries and other healthcare facilities are turning to automated temperature monitoring and digital checklists to reduce the manual burden, instil greater confidence and identify lapses immediately.
There’s a recognition that this form of protection will improve quality, save resources and allow staff to focus on tasks that add value to patient care.
Regular monitoring of storage conditions is vital. Vaccines, for example, are particularly vulnerable to losing their effectiveness if they become too hot or too cold.
In its guidance on storage, distribution and disposal of vaccines, the Green Book advises that they should be stored in a validated vaccine fridge, which is monitored to meet regulatory standards. This fridge should be set to store vaccines between the recommended +2°C to +8°C temperature range and used solely for the storage of vaccines.
Automated temperature monitoring systems such as Tutela, from Checkit, provide continuous real-time data, alerts and notifications when necessary parameters are breached. They also deliver a digital audit trail to help services achieve inspection-ready status.
Setting aside the potential to avoid expensive loss of medicines due to unforeseen spoilage – and all the financial, reputational and operational consequences – the workforce efficiency gains of minimising manual checking routines provides a valuable return too.
Routine stock checks, administrative tasks and safety and hygiene procedures have to be completed on a regular basis. Evidence of task completion is often confined to pen-and-paper, which can create gaps in process adherence and compliance. Missed checks, unreliable data and loss of paperwork are not uncommon.
There is growing adoption of digital work management technologies, such as Checkit. The system prompts and guides staff to perform routine tasks via a mobile handset preconfigured with essential checklists. It also enables employees to provide time-stamped evidence through photos or barcodes. They can confirm that stock is in date, stored appropriately and free from damage, for example.
Actions are logged in the cloud and visible to managers within an intuitive online dashboard that provides alerts, analysis and insight.
In a pharmacy environment, for example, staff are obliged to check orders for possible discrepancies or damage and, once accepted, ensure they are immediately stored correctly, as well as creating a record of current stock levels.
As a result, staff gain more time to focus on the care of patients or customers and best practice is consistently applied.
Read more about how Work Management can improve consistency, efficiency and effectiveness in busy healthcare environments.