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How to...achieve good stock control

Poor stock control can be costly and dangerous.

Over-stocking ties up working capital, uses valuable space and risks expensive items going out of date. Under-stocking could mean vital items are not available when required. This could have clinical or legal implications (if, say, no adrenaline was available), reduces the opportunity to profit from minor surgery or personally administered items, and wastes staff time and loses discounts because of panic sourcing.

Practices need to keep many clinical items in stock, as well as stationery, cleaning materials and all the consumables needed to keep the practice running efficiently. Poor records and systems facilitate mistakes or even theft.

So what do you need to do?

1 Audit the use of treatment room items and draw up a list of essentials. This inventory can be used for ordering and stocktaking. Items can be added if there is a consensus. Dump everything else; clutter-free cupboards make it easy to identify and rotate stock and generally make life a lot easier.

2 Draw up a working minimum list of drugs for the doctors' bags (most will go out of date, unused).

Ask the practice nurse to monitor expiry dates and synchronise restocking.

3 Consider switching to disposable instruments, specula and so on to save nursing time and steriliser maintenance costs.

4 Review systems for personally administered items. Does the profit on individual items justify the effort involved in ordering/administering them? Does the number of prescriptions tally? (Claims can easily get missed on busy days)

5 For clinical, office and housekeeping orders – are maximum discounts obtained? Is bulk-buying worthwhile, or should you consider a purchasing consortium with other practices?

6 Set up robust stock control records (manual or computerised).

7 Set a budget for each area; the practice manager should be able to set up a spreadsheet to monitor usage and spending and produce reports for the partners. These can be used to track expensive items such as Zoladex and printer refills, or plan future orders such as next year's flu vaccines.

8 Review ordering systems. The person who orders items should not sign for them on receipt or pay the invoices; balancing transparency with efficiency protects all concerned.

9 Protect against casual (or more organised) theft by patients and non-patients.

Good stock control improves patient care, staff morale and profits. Once systems are set up, they are easy to run but should be reviewed regularly. And remember – never rest on your laurels.

Dr Melanie Wynne-Jones is a GP in Marple, Cheshire

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