Home » Future of Healthcare » How the humble barcode helps the NHS save thousands of lives and millions of pounds

Anne Godfrey


Glen Hodgson

Head of Healthcare, GS1 UK

For almost 50 years, the humble barcode has been transforming the way we work and live.

At the supermarket checkout, every scan captures unique product information so every item can be identified and processed. This is made possible using GS1 standards.

And it is so simple to scan — no one ever went on a half-day training course to learn how to self-checkout. This very principle continues to revolutionise everyday life, especially in healthcare.

Better patient care with barcodes

GS1 standards provide a common way of identifying every person, every product and every place throughout the supply chain — all the way to the patient’s bedside.

By scanning barcodes on medicines, medical devices, patient wristbands, staff badges or locations, it is quicker and easier to build a true and complete picture of a patient’s care journey. This reduces manual processes, decreasing the risk of human error and improving patient safety.

The best evidence for the life saving potential of barcodes in healthcare comes from the Scan4Safety programme launched by the Department of Health and Social Care in 2016. Results from the programme suggest that, if it was adopted by every hospital in England, over 3.2 million hours of staff time and nearly £120 million could be saved and re-invested back into patient care.

Over 3.2 million hours of staff time and nearly £120 million could be saved and re-invested back into patient care.

Building a global standard

Today, more than half of all hospitals are adopting global data standards to uniquely identify patients. Many healthcare products now hold a GS1 barcode, but there is more to be done.

We remain committed to working with NHS leaders and clinicians to build on these successes and accelerate adoption across UK health services. We have seen exceptional progress in the implementation of Scan4Safety. First in England, then across Scotland, Wales, soon to be followed by Northern Ireland.

Collaboration and trusted data are the keys to delivering better care for all and can play a vital role in helping more organisations adapt to the challenges of today and build resilience for the future.

Digital solutions offer a much more effective way of protecting patients than just asking healthcare providers — who are doing incredible work under unimaginable pressure — to simply ‘try harder.’ We need global standards to be in place across the UK, and Scan4Safety represents a major step in making this a reality.

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