An NHS procurement success story from Durham (part 2)

We heard yesterday about the impressive work the County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust has done in implementing a very robust and well managed eProcurement platform, using technology from Wax Digital. So where do they go next? I spoke to Malcolm Preston, the Trust’s Associate  Director of Procurement.

The Trust is now using the eTender, eAuction and P2P modules, with ‘Contract Management’ in test phase, and an operating theatre stock control module being implemented by Wax Digital as we speak. That stock control will enable the Trust to see stock across all their sites, helping better stock and cost control, and Preston’s ultimate vision moves on from that.

“Eventually, if we do move to a more competitive environment in health provision, hospitals are going to need to understand better and then manage how much it really costs for all the different elements of a patient’s treatment; the total pathway cost.  Few hospitals can do this now with any accuracy. And a large part of that cost comes from bought-in goods and services. To achieve that understanding, data is king – it enables us to do that costing properly, as well as comparing prices across sites and Trusts, leverage our spend and rationalise suppliers”.

As they obtain better data, Durham are also working with neighbouring Trusts to look at pricing; something that the National Audit Office will no doubt applaud after their recent comments.

We discussed yesterday how successfully the Trust has rationalised choice in areas such as stationery. But applying the same principles in medical areas is tougher as issues of clinical preference come into play. However, freeing up procurement resource by automation of the non-critical areas has enabled Preston to put more effort into these more challenging areas and make significant progress; standardisation across a wide range of medical devices (such as infusion pumps) is also in place. But of course, there is always more to be done; theatre kit remains a challenge, in part because of the three separate sites the Trust operates.

One reason for their success in the medical areas is that the 'clinical specialist- procurement' Preston has appointed to work with the clinicians is also a qualified staff nurse – great for stakeholder credibility. And even the language is important with stakeholders; calling her a ‘clinical specialist’ brings a lot more acceptance than using a term like ‘procurement manager’.

Preston emphasises the benefits that getting into these tricky areas can bring.

“The benefits of clinical rationalisation go way beyond just purchase cost saving.  It reduces training time for clinical staff, simplifies ordering, and reduces nursing resource needed”.

The Trust has set up a Procurement Advisory Group made up of clinicians – if there are any disputes around standardisation, they make the decisions, not procurement. This has helped to get that essential stakeholder buy-in to the process.

While he recognises that there is more to be done, Preston is proud of his team; they’ve also achieved the Charter Mark and the public sector ’Customer Excellence Award – pretty unusual (if not unique) for a procurement organisation.  His final summary: “We’re spending your money. That’s what it all comes down to”.

I’m personally reassured when I speak to people like him – at least the element of my taxes that go to his Trust seems to be in good hands!

Voices (5)

  1. Andrew F Smith:

    I think this is a great example of how to get the best out of our people and stakeholders, on top of the stated technology benefits. I particularly like the subtle (but important) use of the medical job title. Too often in Purchasing/ Procurement we think that we can move staff around from category to category, often just to fill gaps in our templates. In practice this causes great pain; not just for the staff member but for the business stakeholder who really wants someone who “speaks their language”. Particularly in more specialist areas I have often found it more advantageous to bring in industry experts – who have the instant credibility and usually can quickly offer real value – and teach them about procurement rather than attempting to teach established procurement professionals about very complex industries.

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