NHS SSP Wales Procurement Initiative of the Year Award – Saves Money, Improves Patient Outcomes

Here is another in our series of reports covering some of the entries from the recent GO Excellence in Public Procurement Awards. These short-listed entries are chosen from the categories for which Peter Smith was a judge, so they were studied very carefully, and each one is featured here based on how interesting we felt it would be for our readers, regardless of whether it won the award (which in this case it did).

The NHS Wales Shared Services Partnership was created to support NHS Wales with a dedicated shared services organisation that would share common operating standards in line with best practice, optimise economies of scale and purchasing power, and improve quality. Within the partnership, the role of Procurement Services (ProcS) is to provide a sourcing, supply chain, purchasing and accounts payable service to health boards and NHS trusts across Wales. It also supports the Welsh Government in the deployment of its procurement strategy and provides procurement expertise in specialist project areas.

ProcS has recently completed an initiative to award a contract for Lymphoedema and Compression products, providing a national formulary for such purchases common to all Health Boards in Wales for the first time. The establishment of a centralised purchasing strategy for this group of products across Trusts has transformed a mindset of cost/value prioritisation to one of quality.

Prior to this activity, significant disparity had existed between purchasing decisions in each Health Board. As the award entry states: “Welsh Government officials, lymphedema clinicians and procurement agreed that standardisation of care across Wales would benefit patients and that significant financial benefits could be derived through the rationalisation of products. It required considerable collaboration between ProcS, Lymphoedema Network Wales and the Surgical Materials Testing Laboratory (SMTL) in order to arrive at a specification that focused on the quality of products, satisfied all stakeholders and ensured compliance with Public Procurement Legislation.”

We asked the Procurement team why they decided to enter this project for the award, Thomas Dumbleton, Category Manager, said:

“This approach, involving independent testing, was the first of its kind for this category; it gave us the opportunity to work closely with the suppliers and make them really think about their processes. The Lymphoedema Network Wales, for which we worked, believed the project deserved better publicity, to promote what we had done to inspire others to take a similar initiative.”

Purchases for this group of products had been undertaken at a department level, with a wide range of suppliers and brands being selected by clinicians often on the basis of prior experience, and pricing varied widely for the same product. To add to the challenge, clinicians had raised concerns over the safety and effectiveness of the products and the impact on continuity of patient care. Most suppliers in the marketplace were claiming their product’s compression pressures matched national and international standards, but these pressures were generally tested by in-house QA departments and independent test data was rare and a number of quality issues were identified.

To tackle these issues the procurement team developed specifications that would allow real competition within the marketplace and rationalised supply to a single supplier per product lot. This contract resulted in clinicians agreeing, for the first time, to restrict their core choice of products so that the full buying power of Wales could be targeted at this market. The project team also worked closely with SMTL laboratory, which had considerable experience of testing medical products and providing test data to support procurement decisions. This was the first time a UK contracting authority had commissioned independent testing of Lymphoedema garments to support a contract evaluation process. We asked what success this brings:

“We wanted recognition that quality should be placed at the top of the criteria agenda, not lowest cost. Our Minister for Health is actively promoting consistent approaches across Wales and this personal involvement and keen interest in procurement was very supportive for us. The data-based evidence has borne out the concerns felt by clinicians and has placed us in a position to make good procurement practice decisions.”

Close collaboration with all stakeholders was key to the success of this project. It will ensure that only products of the highest quality are provided to the 9,000 patients that form the Lymphoedema Service in Wales’ active caseload. An additional 5,000 discharged patients who access compression garments from their general practitioner will also follow the All Wales Formulary.

The contract has also exceeded expectations by achieving a significant financial saving. NHS Wales SSP Procurement Services estimate a financial benefit of £130,000 per annum will be released into Health Board budgets as a result of the procurement activity. The strategy devised to establish an All Wales contract for the provision of Lymphoedema products in Wales has sent a clear message to suppliers, challenging their quality assurance procedures.

We asked what the award means to the team:

“This award is profile building for us. It’s an accolade to the staff, and it recognises the value of working more closely with clinicians and understanding the wider issues. Wales is doing good things in procurement – and this draws more attention to it.”

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