Department of Health Commercial Director: Poacher Turned Big-Game Hunter?

The story in the Times last week (behind the paywall) about the fine imposed on pharmaceutical giant Pfizer by the Competition and Markets Authority demonstrated the seriousness of the issues around procurement of drugs for and by the UK’s National Health Service (NHS).

There has been a number of stories in the press in recent months about what certainly looks like exploitation of the system by unscrupulous firms, and there has been some shock that the NHS does not seem to have a robust procurement process in place to stop it. It looks like hundreds of millions may have been wasted, maybe more, which dwarves some of the potential benefits from other DH procurement initiatives.

That might to some extent explain the Department of Health’s desire to recruit a Chief Commercial Officer to oversee all commercial activities in the health system. The advert is here, and offers a salary of £220,000, plus bonus, pretty generous by public sector standards. Well, very generous, to be accurate. But the closing date for applications is tomorrow, so you need to get a move on!

The role is at Director-General level or SCS3, a very senior in civil service terms. That means the role outranks Pat Mills, who is currently designated as Commercial Director in the Department of Health but is at SCS2 level on around £160K. It may be that he can apply for the job; but we can’t help thinking that someone wants new blood in here – the job description is really not very different to what Mills has been doing for the last two years, with six key areas: Companies & Ventures, Commercial Policy, Procurement, Property, Structured Finance & Transactions, and Supply Chain (including the Supply  Chain Transformation programme).

We did ask the DH (through Mills’ office) what this meant for him but we just go a polite “go away” response. We put his departure by next spring at around 3-1 on in betting terms (75%+ chance in other words).

Looking at the new role’s job description, there is more focus on pharmaceutical procurement, presumably because of those recent headlines which have given the impression that DH / the NHS was not on top of this area. Indeed, understanding of that market seems to outweigh “standard” procurement skills or experience when it comes to selecting the right candidate.

The three key requirements for candidates are:

  • A demonstrable track record of successful senior commercial leadership in the biopharmaceutical industry or a related industry
  • A deep  knowledge of both the UK  marketplace and the workings of the Pharmaceutical industry
  • Pricing Regulatory Scheme (PPRS), gained over a significant time period
  • Ideally,  evidence  of  the successful negotiation  of  major   partnership  agreements

So this is the most obvious “poacher turned gamekeeper” advertisement you can imagine. “We want someone who has been stitching up the NHS to come and tell us how (s)he did it”, is the message. We can fully understand this positioning, but for someone who is going to sit at main Board level in the DH, you would hope the successful candidate will have some broader skills and experience – even if they‘re clearly not going to be what we might recognise as a “professional procurement person”.

That does mean they may struggle for credibility with the procurement folk out in the NHS, just as Mills did at times. Coming back to him, he has done good work in a number of areas but we did hear he was not close to Lord Carter, whose work on efficiency is driving other elements of the commercial / procurement agenda in the system. Mills is ex-Accenture and also not really a procurement man, and we felt although he was clearly very bright and personable, he was more interested in elements of his role such as the joint ventures than he was in terms of the real “procurement” stuff, including pharma.

He did bring in Jim Sahota, who is leading the new operating model work – the replacement of the DHL NHS Logistics contract with a complex new structure of contracts. Sahota will report to the new person, we understand. That programme also has a high chance of failure, so plenty for the new person to get stuck into as well as beating up the pharma industry. Watch this space for further news.

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First Voice

  1. Bill Atthetill:

    I nearly fell off my chair laughing at this article. You have a wonderful, cutting sense of humor Peter.

    Mr Mills must be leaving. The timescales of the recruitment process indicate that they must have a candidate in mind. And, clearly, it’s not him.

    I hear Mr Mills was well received at the HSCA(?) conference and he’s to engage. Have not had the same feedback about Mr Sahota.

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