ALMOST 300,000 pieces of Gwent hospitals’ linen have been tagged as part of an ongoing project designed to help slash a six-figure annual bill for lost items.

Electronic identification tags have been fitted to items such as sheets, towels and pillowcases – and subsequently, newly-ordered items will be fitted with tags at source, in preparation for the new tracking system to be fully introduced next April.

The scheme is being introduced by Aneurin Bevan Health Board, backed with £354,000 from the Welsh Government, and it will also play a vital role in tackling a problem with shortages of sheets, pillowcases, towels and other items on Gwent hospital wards that was first highlighted two years ago by patients’ watchdogs.

The annual bill for lost linen has been around £300,000 a year, but during 2012/13, the bill reached £402,113, a significant sum, especially given the tough budget challenges within the NHS.

The Welsh Government backing is in the form of an Invest To Save scheme, which means the health board must pay the money back from savings made with the new tagging system. Existing linen will be fitted with radio frequency identification tags, which will also apply to all new linen. This will enable every item collected and dispatched through the laundry system to be counted.

It will be the first large-scale implementation of a linen/laundry tagging system in the UK, in either the public or the private sector, though it is well established in Europe. As well as Gwent hospitals, the Greenvale Laundry, on the former Llanfrechfa Grange Hospital site, handles linen from hospitals in the Cardiff and Vale Health Board area and from several NHS trusts in England. When it highlighted the issue of linen supplies late in 2011, Aneurin Bevan Community Health Council (CHC), was concerned that lack of supplies on wards was causing serious patient dignity issues.

lThe health board is also buying in 2,000 sets of pyjamas – not an item usually supplied – as the CHC believes that for some patients, in certain circumstances they should be provided through the NHS.