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Wednesday 26 October 2016
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Speeding up the invoice process

Like any business, invoice processing and getting paid promptly is a priority for GP practices. 

When we receive invoices at NHS Shared Business Services (NHS SBS), the documents are scanned by our financial IT system. This speeds up the time it takes to process payment as each essential detail, including the name of the account, address and payables code, is automatically checked to ensure it matches the details we hold – a process that would take significantly longer if it was done manually. 

However delays do occur at this stage when the invoice information doesn’t meet the validation criteria – for instance if the details are unclear, if there are any anomalies, or if details are missing which then means they cannot be scanned. In complex situations where individual GP practices are operating multiple accounts, we very often find that details can be incorrect or missing. 

For instance, if the account name differs in any respect, or a postcode is missing, the system immediately flags this up as an anomaly and checks then need to be made to ensure payment is being made to the right account holder, whether it’s an individual doctor or the practice. Invoices that refer to practice details where, in fact, they should be an individual (or vice-versa) are a common occurrence. 

Similarly, if a practice changes banks without sending out a notification ahead of the move, our system will immediately flag this up as potentially fraudulent activity. The processing of invoices from that practice are then put on-hold while checks are carried out to verify the new information. 

Every additional check that needs to be made incurs more time going back to the practice in question and will almost certainly result in payment delays. 

This is where e-invoicing can really benefit practices, making the whole process quicker and more efficient. Earlier this year we began our partnership with Tradeshift, making available an accessible, simple-to-use electronic invoicing platform which, importantly, is also 

free for suppliers to use. 

Instead of raising an invoice and sending it through the post, which itself can lead to problems arising if the post is delayed or goes astray, practices can connect to the Tradeshift platform via a secure internet connection that seamlessly interfaces with the NHS SBS finance system. 

The e-invoicing platform is programmed to carry out 15 checks automatically, such as the date, account number, name and address so that when the invoice is being submitted, any anomalies are immediately flagged up to the practice. In fact it’s like booking a plane ticket online as you can only move onto the next stage once all the relevant information has been entered correctly. 

Some may initially be put off, thinking that e-invoicing is only for major suppliers or it involves a complex IT transition that will include lengthy conversations with call centres. However this is far from the reality as the beauty of the Tradeshift platform is its flexibility and suitability for suppliers handling lower volumes of invoices. 

Users can enter each invoice manually using the internet interface, which looks far less like an accounting system and more like the consumer-friendly web templates that we’re familiar with nowadays. Alternatively, the platform can be integrated with existing on-site invoicing software for automated invoice sending – an option that tends to be more suited to senders of large volumes of invoices. 

Importantly, e-invoicing also increases the visibility of the status of each individual invoice. Like any business, once practices have raised and submitted an invoice, they want reassurance as to when payment will be made. 

However now, rather than having to make a call, practices can track the status at any one moment in time simply by logging onto the web portal and opening the invoice document. The status will be then be displayed. For instance: 

Sent - invoice has passed the validation rules.

Delivered – invoice has been received and is currently being processed.

Accepted – invoice has been approved for payment. 

Paid – invoice has been paid. 

There are also automatic messages sent out when an invoice has moved further down the pipeline towards payment, again eliminating the need to make a chasing phone call and giving practices the reassurance they need. 

Add into the mix the fact that e-invoicing can also eliminate some of the paper burden, including having to post all invoices, the electronic option becomes even more attractive, particularly given the NHS target of being paperless by 2018. 

Since we made the electronic invoicing platform available to suppliers, we’ve already seen 15% fewer calls during the invoicing process and the number of invoices that we have had to return for errors to be rectified has decreased significantly. 

This underlines just how e-invoicing can simplify and make life easier for GP practices. As part of the support provided to suppliers there is a step-by-step guide to e-invoicing on the NHS SBS website (see Resources) but below are the main steps to take: 

Creating your account

Check you have a compatible web browser (Internet Explorer vs 9 or above; Google Chrome; Firefox or Safari). 

Go to the Tradeshift web portal (see Resources at the end of article) and enter company name, email address and country. 

After signing up you’ll receive a confirmation email containing a link. Click on the link to complete the activation process. 


Connecting to NHS SBS

Once your Tradeshift account is created and you are logged in, click on ‘Connections’ in the menu on the left, and search for the organisations you want to invoice. 

Click on the ‘Connect’ button to request a connection for each organisation.

After submitting the connection request, it takes up to 14 days for NHS SBS to finalise the connection. You will be notified via email 

when you are able to start invoicing.


Choose your method of sending invoices

There are two manual options (entering data via the web portal or using the document uploader app which supports a wide variety of invoice file formats, including PDFs. 

Alternatively, an automated option can be established that integrates with existing accounting software to export invoices directly to Tradeshift. 

Before sending your first invoice, it’s important that NHS SBS has your correct address and bank details. NHS SBS should be notified of any changes as soon as possible.


Sending an invoice

Click the ‘Connections’ tab, search for the NHS organisation you would like to send an invoice and click ‘Create invoice’. An invoice template will appear. 

Simply fill in the invoice template and when you are ready, click ‘Send invoice’. 

An instant error message will appear on-screen if there are any anomalies and you’ll get a chance to rectify the problem. 

Once successfully dispatched, you can see the document by clicking on the ‘Documents’ tab, where the status should be ‘sent’.

Ensuring these basic steps are followed should help smooth the invoice-to-payment journey and help payments be made more quickly and efficiently. l


Benjamyn Damazer is Head of Commissioning at NHS Shared Business Services 



NHS SBS guide to invoicing

Tradeshift web portal