NHS Frameworks – Chester Procurement Services Responds To Our Comments

We wrote last month here about a single supplier framework contract with Lexmark let by the Countess of Chester Hospital Commercial Procurement Services (COCH).  It is fair to say this worried us somewhat – principally in terms of how you ensure value for money with a single supplier deal like this.  We then received a very interesting “comment” (replying to another comment on the site) from Andy O’Connor, Procurement Director at COCH. Here is a slightly edited version of his remarks, followed by some additional comments based on my conversation with him recently.

“I have given lots of thought too over the past few years to this approach. It’s all borne out of a frustration with the systems and options we currently have within the NHS – such as the "pointless static frameworks" you highlighted. We also wrestle with the lack of transparency in the frameworks we have all historically had to choose from in NHS Procurement. So given these issues I wanted to do something to address the following:

  1. Lack of transparency on fees - our frameworks are fully transparent and we even put our fees on our marketing flyers.
  2. Lack of transparency on terms and conditions - we use the latest versions of the standard NHS terms and conditions.
  3. General lack of detail and information - we send out a buyer briefing pack including everything a procurement team would need to know (we know what it’s like to be told its too sensitive or told to simply “use the website”). Even model contracts are included in our briefs.
  4. Delays in receiving information - we aim to respond to all queries same day or if not at least within 24 hours.
  5. “Same old same old” supplier offers - we talk to our suppliers and guide them as to the best way to do business with the NHS. We debrief successful suppliers and explain how the framework should work for them and how they should approach the NHS. We have even re designed products to make them fit for purpose!

We also advise suppliers when we are not the most appropriate route to the NHS market for them (we told a major gloves supplier they should use NHS Supply Chain).

For me personally it’s about people, the doers and the passionate. I want to make a difference and change the way we perceive and use frameworks, and break down some of the silo working we are exposed to currently. My team are keen to let frameworks that are transparent, open, easy to use and deliver real value. Because that's what they would want to be offered in their day job.

For the suppliers, it’s about innovating and simplifying the way they do business with the NHS. To have a simple and uncluttered shop window if you like. For the 61 Trusts who are already using our frameworks, it’s the same as we would want – simplicity and transparency. It’s also about value, speed of responses and knowing that not all frameworks are the same!

To summarise:

- All of our frameworks are let through OJEU and are fully compliant with an open call for competition.

- We have sole and multiple supplier frameworks which are all driven by the responses we receive from suppliers.

- There is a competition run either to award a framework or via competition within the multi supplier frameworks we let.

-Yes, we charge a % but we are very careful to ensure this is proportionate and not excessive.

The NHS is with us - they are pointing suppliers in our direction on a regular basis so we can offer solutions”.

 

In our brief conversation, I asked Andy about my particular concern re single supplier frameworks. He emphasised that often the Trust will put in place multiple supplier arrangements – it is genuinely only where they perceive a supplier has a unique offer that they will go down the single route. “If we get into the process and find there are more suppliers than we thought, we will switch to a multiple supplier framework”, he says. Where it is single supplier, effort is put into making sure prices are competitive and users of the framework have the right information to achieve value for money.

He makes some very good points about frameworks and what needs to be done to make them effective, and we hope to have a more detailed conversation in person with O’Connor soon. Despite our concerns initially, we felt more reassured following his comments and our discussion, he is certainly an innovator, and has the support of many key players in NHS procurement.

We’ve felt for some time that real change and improvement in that sector will have to come from practitioners, not from “the centre” (the Department, NHS England, or NHSI). So the work in Chester may well be another sign, along with excellent initiatives we’ve seen in other Trusts recently, that things are really happening.

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