Department of Health Scores Top Drugs Man As Commercial Supremo

Last week the UK Department of Health appointed its first ever Chief Commercial Officer, Steve Oldfield. We described the job here when it was advertised as a “poacher turned gamekeeper” role, as DH looked for a pharmaceutical industry person who could negotiate better deals for the public purse with the industry itself. Oldfield is a former UK and Ireland general manager for the pharmaceutical company Teva Group, and is currently chief operating officer of PGT Healthcare, a joint venture between Teva and Procter and Gamble.

It is an interesting strategy and as taxpayers we have to wish him well. It would be fascinating to understand his own internal motivation though. It looks like he is in his mid-fifties. Does he perceive that he will never go back onto the industry side? Because if he does still harbour some thoughts about returning in that direction, might that make him less likely to take the tough line that seems to be the desired strategy?  And he’s hardly going to come in and say, “yeah, we used to really rip you off when I was at Sanofi and Teva”, is he?

The DH said Oldfield’s initial focus will be the creation and development of a commercial strategy to underpin its negotiations with drug suppliers, particularly in relation to the Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme, through which some £8bn a year of government funds is currently channelled.

Oldfield studied modern languages at Sheffield University in the 1980s then became a marketing manager for P&G for several years, moving on to Sanofi in a similar role then rising up the ladder there to UK MD. He coaches football so we’ll forgive him for coming from the dark side (marketing) – the cv looks pretty impressive, and his roles at Teva and Sanofi mean that he has arguably done bigger private sector jobs than Gareth Rhys Williams, his functional boss as government’s Chief Commercial Officer in the Cabinet Office.

Oldfield is an example of this new “matrix management” structure that we now have in senior government procurement and commercial circles, with executives employed by Cabinet Office as part of the “Government Commercial Organisation”, then in effect seconded out to departments. The jury is still out on this approach, we would say.

We assume he holds the wider commercial responsibilities for the DH and presumably the NHS more widely as well as his “beating up the pharma firms” responsibilities. So that would mean the more conventional procurement agenda that sits under newly appointed Commercial Director Melinda Johnson and the massive competitive process to replace the NHS Supply Chain arrangements (led by Jin Sahota) also report in to Oldfield. He doesn’t have any background in that more “conventional” side of procurement, so it will be interesting to see whether he gets very involved or leaves it to his lieutenants.

The world of pharma buying is likely to get even more interesting with Brexit, so we suspect Oldfield will have plenty to keep him busy. He is sitting at DH main board level, so we should be pleased that procurement is being recognised in that sense; even if (not for the first time) government has appointed someone into a top procurement role who has probably never heard of CIPS let alone studied contract law or developed a category strategy.  Presumably CIPS wouldn’t give him a “licence to practice”, not that DH are likely to worry about that!

Good luck to him anyway and we will watch his progress with interest.

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