Advice and Information for Finance Professionals

How small changes can make a big difference in healthcare

Guest Author

By Christine Hall, Associate Programme Director, NHS NEP

Imagine you’re a nurse on the front lines of healthcare, and you need to check your budget to see if you can afford new supplies. But instead of quickly pulling up an easy-to-read report with a traffic light system, you must scroll through pages and pages on a spreadsheet. How long does that take? How much time is eaten up by administrative duties, leaving less time for patient care?

This is a common scenario in hospitals around the world. Healthcare is notoriously complex, siloed, and inefficient. Many providers are still using paper, or even counting medical supplies by hand. My organization, NEP, is trying to change some of that.

In England, the National Health Service (NHS) oversees and distributes funds for public healthcare across the country. The NHS is operated by a network of more than 200 “trusts” (essentially public-sector corporations) responsible for providing healthcare to local populations.

That’s where we come in. NEP is a not-for-profit consortium that provides technology solutions to 32 NHS legal entities/organisations and 68 business units. Rather than have every hospital or care facility run its own back-office spreadsheets, purchase orders and paper, NEP provides modern technology to help our clients manage administrative functions like finance and procurement. Our shared platform model takes much of the back-office burden off the shoulders of trusts and providers, giving them easy-to-use software to manage budgets, planning, procurement and more.

In healthcare, every penny counts. Costs go up every year, and the COVID-19 crisis added 35 percent to the NHS’s most recent budget. Finding savings and efficiencies in finance, especially in procurement (which represents 60 percent of NHS spend), can keep costs under control and help each of our clients be more efficient. Our goal is bringing more value to the NHS so that staff can devote more time and funds to patient care.

Part of the greater NHS digital transformation

Until a few years ago, our finance and procurement applications were on-premises. As those systems approached end of life, we decided on a move to the cloud. The move was part of the NHS’s overall digital transformation strategy; a major motivation was having always up-to-date technology. But we quickly found that there were many advantages to cloud applications compared with on-premises—including ubiquitous access, standardization across diverse organizations, and advanced automation.

Ensuring business continuity: The arrival of the first COVID-19 stay-at-home orders coincided with year-end audits, along with an urgent need to secure essential goods to help combat the pandemic. Because the cloud applications could be accessed remotely, essential work continued uninterrupted. It was more or less business as usual. In addition, we successfully onboarded three new organizations during the pandemic—all remotely.

Applying best practices: Multiple client organizations means multiple ways of doing things. NEP’s model is that it is a templated, multi-organisation solution and has  workflows such as the procure-to-pay cycle to smooth the learning curve and emphasize best practices across all clients. That way, each organization can get the most value possible from the technology.

Increasing automation: A primary goal of the NHS’s digital strategy is to eliminate paper as much as possible and automate processes, which in turn frees workers from routine work so they can devote more time to added value processes—and ultimately, benefits patient care. Oracle Fusion Cloud ERP helps with this goal. For example, NHS organizations can scan invoices into the system with 98-percent accuracy and exchange data with <480 suppliers using PEPPOL-compliant e-invoicing.

Simplifying intercompany transactions: As a complex network of semi-autonomous organizations, the NHS must handle a huge volume of intercompany charges; these processes were inefficient and costly. NEP worked with Oracle to automate these transactions, so the data is entered simultaneously in the accounts of each organization without human intervention. With Oracle Fusion Cloud Procurement, we can reduce manual processing for millions of transactions, supporting the negotiating of pricing with vendors, and create a streamlined e-commerce purchasing experience for end users.

Reducing system maintenance: Oracle Fusion Cloud Applications have transformed NEP from a service organization to a supporting partner that ensures clients are getting the greatest benefit from the solution. Updates occur on a regular three-month cadence, providing member organizations with the latest technology available. This greatly reduces the amount of time that we, and our clients, spend on upgrading, patching and securing their IT systems.

Automation helps professionals and patients

Since the start of the pandemic, every penny has counted more. Every minute seems to pass a little quicker. In the midst of a global health crisis, even incremental improvements can make a big difference—making the jobs of nurses, doctors, and admin staff easier and simpler, so they can deliver the best patient care. Oracle technology has facilitated this, and every little thing that happens behind the scenes contributes towards the benefit of staff and patients on the frontline.

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