Working with the Commercial Medicines Unit (CMU) we've developed an online pharmacy catalogue that has helped achieve considerable cost savings


The Commercial Medicines Unit is part of the Medicine, Pharmacy and Industry Group of the UK Government's Department of Health which looks at supply and procurement in hospitals.  In particular, it works with NHS pharmacists and suppliers to gather and analyse the money spent on secondary care (hospital) medicines. CMU works on behalf of both the Department of Health and the NHS. NHS hospitals in England currently spend around £3.6 billion annually on pharmaceuticals.  It is estimated that around £3 billion of that total is spent on branded pharmaceuticals - the remainder covers generic drugs and pharmaceutical related products such as gases, blood products, renal and enteral feeds. 

PDMS have delivered an online pharmacy catalogue, now managed by the CMU, which is used by pharmacies in hospitals and prisons across the UK. 

The Challenge 

The original contract was awarded by the NHS Purchasing and Supply Agency (PASA) as PDMS had worked with PASA on several different projects including the supply of information on pharmaceutical framework agreements to pharmacy staff working in hospital trusts on CD-Rom. The CDs were produced on a monthly basis and contained a wide range of information on pharmaceutical products e.g. medicines, medical consumables etc. including framework agreements in place, supplier details, supplier terms including prices etc.

In order to reduce production and distribution costs and to enable data to be updated much more quickly, NHS PASA decided to replace the CD and put the pharmacy catalogue on-line via a website. PDMS were selected to develop the new on-line catalogue which had to be up and running within a tight 4 month deadline.

The Solution

The new online catalogue has similar functionality to that of the old CD but also has several new useful features. Accessible via the internet, pharmacy staff within the NHS can log on to the site and see product, supplier and contract information for the different framework agreements negotiated for their specific trust or region. The information contained on the framework agreements is comprehensive and includes: the product including brand names, pack sizes, codes; suppliers including their terms and prices and contact details; specific information including start and end dates. Importantly, the on-line catalogue also shows any pending price increases or decreases for products and changes to terms so that hospital staff can make an informed decision as to the best time to purchase in order to achieve value for money. Unlike the CD which only contained information on the current month, the new on-line catalogue also stores a 12 month history of price data for each product. This feature enables users to quickly and easily view all price changes since the last catalogue update.

Because the catalogue holds data on tens of thousands of products it was imperative that searching for information within the product database was made as quick and as easy as possible. Pharmacy staff can search on multiple criteria including all changes since the previous catalogue or filter the search to more specific changes including deleted products, price increases, price reductions, revised supplier terms etc. Data can also be exported to Excel spreadsheets for further analysis and distribution.

Staff at NHS PASA also have an administration facility so they can control access to the system and issue passwords etc. The system has been designed to ensure that users only view details of products and suppliers that are relevant to their particular NHS trust or group of trusts. System administrators at NHS PASA can also add relevant news about products and suppliers to the contract news pages and again, users of the catalogue will only be able to see news applicable to their local area.

PDMS developed the on-line catalogue using their Foundations platform which already covered much of the functionality including the product catalogue and user authentication.  The data for the catalogue comes from the NHS' Phate System and PDMS have developed import routines to extract, upload and import the data into the new on-line catalogue. This import routine is scheduled to run overnight so as not to interrupt access to the system during the day. The data is first imported into a verification website so that it can be checked before being put on to the live website used by the pharmacists.


With the introduction of the new on-line pharmacy catalogue, NHS PASA are not only making considerable cost savings but are also helping pharmacy staff in hospital trusts to achieve value for money. The CDs cost money to produce and distribute within the NHS each month and this expense has now been eliminated. Moreover, with the on-line catalogue, staff at NHS PASA have direct control over how frequently the information in the catalogue is updated and the process is a lot quicker and easier to manage.

Pharmacy staff now have immediate access to a history of price movements for each product over 12 months and importantly, pending product price increases or decreases. This information allows them to decide which products to purchase and when to order them in order to achieve the greatest cost savings.

The  on-line pharmacy catalogue currently stores information on over 20,000 pharmaceutical products and has been well received by the users within the many NHS hospital trusts who use it on a regular basis.

Working with the Commercial Medicines Unit (CMU) we've developed an online pharmacy catalogue that has helped achieve considerable cost savings quote image
PDMS have provided responsive, reliable and helpful support which has helped NHS organisations to realise substantial savings for the NHS. This has been achieved by the delivery of a secure web catalogue which displays current contracting and pricing structure for medicines in real time Andrew Davies Chair, Pharmacy Business Technology Group, Commercial Medicines Unit