Much has been documented about the overwhelming pressures facing the NHS, not least in ensuring critical PPE equipment is supplied efficiently to the front lines, with hospitals and primary care trusts facing huge difficulties in accessing kit.

There is, however, a fundamental misconception about the current shortage of PPE equipment, with many assuming that the issue is only one of availability. In reality, it is access to, as well as availability of stock, which is the major issue.

The problem lies in the NHS Supply Chain, a sufficient and effective system in normal conditions, but one that finds itself overwhelmed in the current crisis.

Change is required to better equip our healthcare services to cope both now and in the future. Utilising technology, such as marketplace platforms, can rapidly connect Trusts to suppliers and expedite deliveries of PPE equipment to the frontlines.

Let’s examine the current problem. In the vast majority of cases, hospitals acquire PPE and other products from the NHS Supply Chain. Amidst the Covid-19 crisis, there is a huge spike in demand from new suppliers trying to supply the NHS.

The difficulty comes as, rightly so, these new suppliers must obtain a certificate of approval from the Department of Health. Given the volume of new suppliers looking to onboard with the NHS, there is a huge bottle neck, leaving a significant backlog in the process. As a result, some suppliers have understandably become impatient and in some cases diverted attentions to selling in other countries, where there is also a pressing need for key equipment.

The government has appealed to NHS trusts not to procure their own PPE, instead suggesting it is done centrally to avoid them competing with each other. Whilst the logic makes sense, the urgency of the crisis means many trusts have lost confidence in the government’s ability to secure sufficient PPE when they need it.

If procurement teams cannot find supplies through the NHS Supply Chain or their own catalogues, many have resorted to social media or Google searches to source suppliers. This ‘Wild West’ approach is fraught with problems and we have heard reports of trusts being sent faulty or unauthenticated products while others are being offered kit at vastly inflated prices.

Another issue lies in the Trusts’ inability to have real time visibility over their inventory and data, making it difficult to plan for the future. This lack of visibility is inefficient and has led to overstocking and waste. Already there are warnings of the next big shortages, particularly dialysis machines, so there is a need to act quickly.

Technology can provide the solution, particularly where it can easily plug-and-play into existing systems. It is these solutions that can provide the NHS with a digital marketplace which can act as an extension to the National Supply Chain and ensure that millions of products are made available from suppliers that have already been through the verification process, therefore overcoming the backlog.

Virtualstock’s marketplace platform is currently being utilised by 139 NHS trusts. 20 of those trusts, are fully integrated with the technology, and have secured £30m worth of products since the end of March alone.

Through full integration with the platform, Trusts have visibility over their entire inventory which means that they can prepare for future crises by identifying the gaps. Additional functionality is being developed whereby hospitals will be able to upload overstocked products and offer them to Trusts where there is demand.

There are plenty of suppliers across the country well positioned to help NHS trusts fulfil their needs – it is just a case of providing the missing link and connecting up the supply chain in a quick and easy manner.

Marketplace platforms are a proven solution for this and must be utilised to see us through this current crisis and beyond.