An Insider’s View of the HCSA Health Procurement Conference

(Here is a guest post from a senior delegate and Trust procurement leader, with their view of last week's Healthcare Supplies Association conference!)

The annual pilgrimage to Manchester for another two days of all that is procurement in the NHS came as a welcome breather after what has been a difficult period for the profession. I don’t recall such sustained political interest /interference (delete as appropriate) since the early 2000’s when Ken Anderson was parachuted in all Rambo style to sort us limeys out. The only thing missing from the agenda was Dr Dan Poulter - so we missed the chance to deliver a WI style hand bagging a la Tony Blair!

The mood of my brethren was a little muted, with few of the audience able to spark up any lively debate with the speakers, and the tone was reinforced by the kick off session from John Warrington. John resembles a super tanker Captain trying to steer his volatile cargo through difficult waters. He started with the usual stuff about how the sector was in dire straits (thanks, we didn’t know!) and went on about how important procurement was in plugging the hole in the water line. We were given a ray of light to aim for, with an imaginary success story, something about a Trust Board meeting in Nether Whopping NHS Trust and were all salivating at the prospect of a £20k bonus for the Procurement Director who delivered the imaginary perfect service!

John went on to describe in some detail Lord Carter’s change in emphasis – he wants a more bottom up solution to the broken system (murmurs of approval) and wants to focus on some US style metrics (less approval) that focus on how much does it cost to treat a patient (or did I miss something)? Anyway Lord Carter was on the agenda for day 2 so we thought we would get his plans from the horse’s mouth, only to be told he could no longer attend - the pressures of politics or a business trip to the US seemed to be the reason.

Next up was Alastair Hill (Senior Lead NHS Standard Contract) who described what he admitted was a complex commissioning contract to try and simplify the Lansley landscape. If a camel and a duck bill platypus mated, well you know the rest ...

Jonathan O’Brien (CEO Positive Purchasing) gave an upbeat and positive opinion about category management. He touched on the ‘is category management dead in the water’ debate but quickly concluded this was nonsense, perhaps because his bestselling books extol the virtues of such an approach! Then Peter Wilson (Health & Social Care Northern Ireland) described what life is like in a depoliticised sensibly managed healthcare environment.

Spend Matter’s very own Peter Smith took the first of two bows to the audience – his invulnerable self confidence lightened the mood as he launched into what he thought had gone wrong in recent times with some of the various policy shifts. Peter finished his session with a withering summary of the Atlas Of Variation, which has quickly come to resemble a dog eared out of date A to Z of Blackburn (no offence meant to Simon Walsh)!

The morning of day 2 kicked off with three high quality workshops. The highlight was “Improving NHS Information Management” - more about reinforcing some basic data management considerations, but nonetheless a pleasure to attend. Andy McMinn (CPO Plymouth) adds energy and enthusiasm to this space and he was ably aided by Rob Young (Business Services Authority), James Minnards (GHX) and the languid Scott Pryde (BravoSolution).

The guys took us through the power of good data and into some pretty impressive stuff that Scott is doing in terms of product benchmarking (price and cost in use). Steve Graham finished off with the e-commerce strategy update, which aside from an extension to the creation of our GS1 strategies at Trust level appears not to have moved on much. I think the DoH needs a roving ambassador for all things “e”, someone who has done it, can motivate Trust Boards with a real world insight and has the respect of his peers. Andy McMinn is that person.

NHS Supply Chain were ably represented by the passionate David Pierpoint who always makes a pretty good attempt at convincing us we need them ... Interestingly their £150 million savings challenge appears to have only reached £50 million, so with the clock ticking and the terms of the contract extension to be tweaked, expect some noise in the system on that issue.

In place of Lord Carter a few of the more senior members of the audience did a Question Time type slot. My take from this session is that the role of the centre and its lack of intervention in the broken landscape is making the perception of the ‘procurement problem child’ appear worse than it actually is, which may well suit some agendas.

The conference wound down with a really motivational slot from Alan Brace  (CFO for the Aneurin Bevan Health Board). How some of us wished we worked for a CFO like that ! Helen Lisle (HCSA Chair Elect) outlined her thorough and personable approach to supply management and the conference finished with Brums very own Peer, Lord Hunt, pointing out that we are fast approaching third-world funding of the NHS. He remains a fantastic President for the Association, one that will make sure we are represented and our voice heard for years to come.

The Gala Dinner was sprinkled with awards and great speeches that rounded off a really good conference. The highlight for me was a standing ovation for the outgoing Chair, Simon Walsh, whose dry Mancunian wit and professional example brightened up some grey and dull November days in the five years we have been meeting in Manchester. So having practiced our Gallagher brothers accents for 5 years, we move to Britain’s second city in 2015 (Solihull actually), where we hope to reflect on a year of positive change.

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Voices (14)

  1. John Effingham:

    Bill – it’s really nice to have your continued interest. I am sure people would like to know more about your experience of NHS procurement and HCSA. If you want to do this confidentially then why not give me or Simon a call – I am sure it would add credibility to your points of view if we felt we knew more about you. Arms Length Body=ALB Best wishes John Effingham

    1. Peter Smith:

      I suspect we should think of Bill more as some sort of magical / mystical creature, that would disappear in a puff of smoke it ever revealed its true nature to the harsh reality of the Spend Matters readership.

      1. Bill Atthetill:

        John – I have no wish to appear rude, but I cannot see how a conversation with yourself would possibly “add to the credibility” of the points that I have made. My logic and/or related quality of thought-process can be challenged at any time by the huge (gargantuan, even…) number of Spend Matters readers, and they can be as blunt, brutal, or supportive as they see fit. And I rather fancy the idea of staying a magical/mythical creature, as Peter suggests.

        Thanks for letting me know what ‘ALB’ means. (I now know that Eugene works in an ‘Arms Length Body’ – a rather apt term for an organisation in the health system.) There appears to be 15 ALBs (according to Wiki) costing taxpayers some £7bn pa (rev). I had thought that many of these were put on the ‘bonfire’, but clearly not!

        1. Bill Atthetill:

          Further to my own comments, I offer an apology to John Effingham who, it transpires (following a few enquiries), has almost single-handily delivered much of what Simon Walsh has outlined above. If this is so, then it is a remarkable achievement John and shows exceptional dedication to your profession. (My apologies.) Even so, I am still going to stay magical and mythical…

  2. Bill Atthetill:

    These are all very good (supportive) comments. Clearly, you have nothing to worry about. Eugene – what is “ALB land”?

  3. Eugene Cooke FCIPS:

    Simon, you have captured in superbly. The Conferences have changed focus to include more from the Commissioning side of the NHS and we have attracted speaked from the specialism over the last few years. HCSA can engage, continues to engage and will seek to further engage with those who wish to be part of a growing professional group of like minded individuals. Everyone’s contribution is important and those of us in ALB land. also want to be included, as we too support the wider aims of the NHS. I look forward to seeing more ‘Commissioners’ at the future conferences, so that their views can be heard with even more clarity.

  4. Simon Walsh:

    Useful comments and thank you.
    my thoughts as Chairman are
    -we have a dedicated Council Member ( Alan Turrell from Walsall CCG) who leads on Commissioning along with other members such as Alan Hoskins who have detailed knowledge and experience in this area.Alan Turrell has nationally recognised expertise.
    – we have two Council Members ( Sarah Holliehead and Paul Ralston ) from non Acute/Community/Specialist Trusts plus Members such as myself with many years experience in providing procurement to these organisations
    – we constantly strive to maximise NHS attendance at our Conference and provide subsidised day places and a Conference that is fantastic. VFM compared with others
    – we don’t ignore anyone in the NHS supplies chain….NHS and private intermediaries,DH,Cabinet Office,ABHI,FTs,Community Trusts,Specialist Trusts,DHL,Bunzl,Squadron,NHS Supply Chain all of them attended plus many other exhibitors
    – we represent all the Home Countries and had a strong Wales and N.Ireland input into this year’s Conference
    – Future Focussed Finance is superb and Procurement can learn from it but not necessarily replicate it
    – we had a Summer Conference attended by 200 delegates
    – we had a PDP attended by 32 Future Leaders
    In summary the HCSA is modernising and strengthening itself with 1400 members and an increasing national profile.
    There is so much more to do but so much has been achieved.
    I am immensely proud of how far we have come.
    Simon Walsh MCIPS

    1. John Effingham:

      I have read with interest the comments posted following publication of Peter Smith’s article on the 2014 HCSA Annual Conference. Most of those who commented actually attended the Conference. We all have the interests of NHS procurement at heart so let’s try to focus on the positives. In supporting Simon’s informed comments we had another excellent Conference according to the vast majority of people who spoke to me or emailed me and others on Council. This year we had representation from Ambulance Trusts; Mental Health and Community Trusts; CSUs; NHS Procurement Collaboratives; Acute Trusts; national bodies including NHS Wales; H&SC Northern Ireland and DH. Attendance at the HCSA Conference is open to all. For those who may not be aware the HCSA is run almost entirely on a voluntary basis and almost entirely by people who work full time in the NHS to whom we are grateful. HCSA is making real progress and is keen to take on board comments which will help us improve our reach and impact. Thanks for your feedback. Let’s celebrate the successes of HCSA and the Profession as highlighted during the Awards Ceremony at the Gala Dinner. For those who commented but did not attend this year you missed another great Conference and we hope you will join us in Solihull on 25-26 November 2015.

  5. Dave Coley:

    Pity the article didn’t mention the 10 minutes we had about stationery savings from NHSSC – I felt like I was in a time warp and had gone back 30 years

  6. Peter Wilson:

    I don’t know about depoliticised and sensibly managed, but allowed time to evolve, mature, embed change and follow a programme of continuous improvement certainly helps!

  7. Stephen Heard:

    My concern with the HCSA is that it tends to be acute centric and ignores all of the other bits of the NHS supply chain. Procurement in Community Services and Mental Health NHS Trusts and the hundreds of Clinical Commissioning Groups could all add to the overall procurement contribution. If the proclaimed bottom up approach captures all of the 700 plus NHS branded organisations then fine. However I suspect not.

    1. Bill Atthetill:

      I completely agree.

      I have asked what the mix was from NHS trusts, and, after getting blood out of a stone, heard that only 55 trusts turned up (there are 240-300 trusts), 45 of which were acutes (out of 150/160 acutes?) Apparently, they had a good turnout this year?

      Perhaps the answer lies in the (new) strapline of the HCSA: “Supporting NHS Procurement Professionals”. So, I sense that if a trust doesn’t actually employ a procurement professional, they can’t send anyone along (I hear that many trusts don’t have a professional in their midst).

      If I was HCSA, I would consider the following:

      – change the strapline to something like “Promoting the NHS Procurement Profession” to allow its scope to cover trusts which don’t employ a ‘professional’ – this would enable the HCSA to write to a trust board and ask “why aren’t you employing a procurement/supply chain professional?…”.The HCSA could run a campaign similar to ‘Future Focused Finance’ (HFMA) to promote procurement as a strategic function. (Regardless, do NHS procurement professional genuinely feel/believe that you ‘support’ them? If so, how?)

      – arrange specific, national conferences for mental health and community hospitals (and ambulance trusts?) and invite their NEDs, CEOs, CFOs etc. Not just a single national conference where none of them turn up. HCSA could also run a similar one just for CCGs (given they are ‘buying’ £70bn+ pa of healthcare between them…). Or, run a joint-national conference with HFMA for finance directors/finance operations managers (my personal favourite);.

      – create your conference agenda based upon ‘burning platforms’ to attract the best keynote speakers and thought-leaders. If a sole Finance Director stole the show at this year’s conference, well, that can’t be right…

      Trying to be helpful.

  8. Eugene Cooke:

    It was an excellent two days, of procurement networking, knowledge sharing and generally helping everyone to understand that ‘we are in this together, and we can and should spread the good news stories’. There are many, many positives and as I talked with several procurement Leads, the fact that hundreds of millions of (tax payers) pounds, are saved, costs avoided, by the intervention, professionalism and extremely hard work of the procurement professions on an annual basis….always gets overlooked. If we didn’t do what we do on a daily basis…back in our own organisations,then the (wider) NHS would be in much more trouble than it is. With the looming election….as we say every year ‘the only constant, is change’…..procurement always responds, positively!!

  9. Andy McMinn:

    Did my mum write this? Nice to hear our workshop was well received.

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