The Information Standards Board for Health and Social Care has called for patients to wear barcoded wristbands and for trusts that do not comply by July 2011 to be penalised.

An advanced notification of a new information standard has been sent out by the ISB that would define the procedures necessary to add barcodes to patient wristbands in all healthcare settings.

If a full standard is passed in July 2010, then a related Data Set Change Notice (DSCN) will be issued with a mandate for full compliance across the NHS by1 July 2011.

The notification states: “The procedures and processes required by the standard will ensure that patients can be identified by auto identification and data capture (AIDC) techniques thus reducing risks of misidentification, improved patient care.”

“The standard is effectively a building block that will enable applications and procedures associated with patient treatment [such as] blood sampling, theatre procedures, and medication administering, to ensure safe and certain patient identification as apart of these processes.”

The advanced notice says the aim will be to require trusts to put four core identifiers onto wristbands in the form of barcodes that meet GS1 standards. The core identifiers are patient’s last name, first name, date of birth and NHS Number.

Trusts are supposed to put print these identifiers on wristbands in human readable form by 31 December next year. They were supposed to print wristbands in a standardised format this July.

However, two weeks ago, E-Health Insider revealed that almost a third of NHS trusts had missed a deadline set by a National Patient Safety Agency safer practice notice for doing this.

Despite being given two years to replace handwritten wristbands with printed wristbands, 25% of trusts have “ongoing actions” and a further 5% are “assessing the relevance” or “taking no action since acknowledgment.”

Shane Brooke, healthcare project manager for GS1 UK, told EHI: “Standardised barcoded and printed wristbands are critically important to patient care. They help to ensure that the right care or treatment is given to the right patient at the right time in the right place.”

However, he acknowledged: “It didn’t happen before with the NPSA’s standardised wristband deadline and so we perceive a similar response to the advanced notice. 

"But we are continuing to drive this forward with NHS Connecting for Health and have set up meetings to work closely with the strategic health authorities to develop a programme to further push it out to the trusts.

“The Care Quality Commission and the NPSA have put as much as they can behind the initiative, but with compliance being mandated hopefully this will drive things forward quicker.”

The importance of printed, standardised and barcoded wristbands has been recognised for many years.

In February 2007, the Department of Health published ‘Coding for Success’, which said that auto-identification and data capture techniques should be deployed throughout the NHS, based on GS1 standards.

Earlier this year, the House of Commons Health Committee criticised the DH for being too slow to adopt the standards.

Those trusts that do not already have systems in place to print barcoded wristbands will need to procure and install software and hardware systems at all points in the hospital where a patient wristband is printed.

Brooke added: “There are several reasons why some trusts have not complied. Trusts very often claim that they don’t have enough resources or they have other priorities that are perceived to be more important.”

Links: GS1

NPSA Safer Practice Notice on printing standardised wristbands.