Lord Carter becomes NHS Procurement Champion

The UK’s Department of Health has appointed Lord Carter as the Health Service “procurement champion”. Carter is a Labour Party peer, has a track record in the NHS, having having chaired a review of NHS pathology services, and has also served as president of electronic patient records system provider McKesson’s International Operations Group.

Although he is a Labour peer (and best friend of Jack Straw, the Labour ex Minister), you wouldn’t know it from his background. He's not exactly a raving Stalinist,that's for sure. He built and sold a major healthcare business, making him a multi-millionaire, and his many, many reports for the public sector over the years have generally come from a market-driven perspective.

ColesFor instance, he led a major review of Legal Aid, published in 2006, that called for a more market driven, competitive and procurement led approach. In my time as a Commissioner (non-executive director) for the Legal Services Commission, we tried in the main unsuccessfully to implement his recommendations. But I remember his report as being pretty sensible, even if it did not quite get to grips with all the complexities of that market.

My understanding was that at one stage the Department of Health really wanted a “procurement champion / Tsar” who was a big-hitting private sector procurement leader, who would carry credibility with the procurement profession in the NHS. Maybe a John Paterson (IBM CPO) type individual. Was it that they just couldn’t find one, or did they decide it would be better to go with someone who really knows his way around Westminster, Whitehall and the health system?

But the big question is - what can he actually do here? The devolved nature of health means that the levers he can pull are limited. And the scale of the system means that huge amounts of effort and resource are needed to drive anything from the centre. As we’ve said before, procurement in the central Department has some good people, but really not many of them if they are to drive change more widely. Will Carter be able to really move matters forward - by securing more resources for example?

Good luck to him anyway. There’s plenty to be done.

Voices (4)

  1. Mark Lainchbury:

    1/2 a point to both Peter & Bill ?
    Dr.Dan Poulter’s forward to BPVC (Aug13) refers to appointing a “Leading private sector figurehead to act as a procurement champion and support delivery of the programme”

    Whilst Lord Carter is coming in as a Champion of Procurement.

  2. Sam Unkim:

    The only reason that we even know there are different prices available, is because maverick trusts are getting far better deals than DHL can achieve, even”wielding” their billions of NHS spend.
    The solution then, seems to be to mandate DHL, as the only supply route and stop the headlines. Soundbyte progress I calls it.

  3. Bill Atthetill:

    “…at one stage the Department of Health really wanted a “procurement champion / Tsar” who was a big-hitting private sector procurement leader, who would carry credibility with the procurement profession in the NHS. Maybe a John Paterson (IBM CPO) type individual.”

    This is not true. I’ve spoken to the senior folk in the DH. They never wanted a procurement big-hitter – “another false prophet from industry”. The existing team within the DH – high calibre and all senior practitioners (as described to me by some attendees to the NHS Procurement Directors conference last week) – wouldn’t want another procurement big hitter (the team already has one…) to ‘second-guess’ the strategy which has been authored and published and is now being implemented.

    The DH wanted a senior politician, a diplomat, a ‘market-shaper’, to join-up all the dots at the top of the system, and help resolve some long-standing issues in terms of pace, prioritisation, centralisation and the wider NHS procurement landscape.

    There are too many of the same products being bought from the same manufacturers by different NHS trusts for different prices to deliver the same outcomes to patients with the same problems. It’s called ‘waste’, and the NHS can no longer afford it. I’m told the procurement efficiency target is £2billion – I think they should aim higher.

    1. Peter Smith:

      I stand corrected – I might have been getting confused with the Chair of the NHS Business Services Authority role!

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