Engaging Clinicians in Change Projects – An NHS Trust Success Story

It has been a long-standing observation that while clinicians have the major influence over patient care, make decisions that have a direct bearing on the use of the organisation's resources, and have a wealth of experience of the NHS, they are mostly traditionally regarded as change-resistant. But their input to a change process is vital; they have a clear understanding of what will and will not work and are an integral part of achieving success. So their engagement is often the number-one priority for any project involving changing a process, product or service. Investing time on the part of the project leader and partners to get their buy-in/sign-up/ engagement right at the start of the relationship is a wise move that will save time and effort, and avoid any misunderstandings or ‘feet dragging’ in the long run.

It’s not easy to accomplish, given that a clinician’s foremost concern and use of time lies in frontline care. But we have a success story of an NHS Trust, charged with releasing procurement budget savings, which succeeded in saving almost £1.1 million through strategic partnering and clinical involvement, managed the right way. Here’s how the story goes:

Aintree University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust (a large teaching hospital in Liverpool providing Accident & Emergency services and a wide range of acute and non-acute specialties to a populations of about 330,000) was tasked with realising savings in the procurement categories in medicine and surgery. To deliver the strategy, Head of Procurement and Supplies, Sue Colbeck, along with her team, had to understand what was needed to achieve the savings for each clinical business unit (CBU). To do this they needed the involvement of the clinicians from the start. Part of the overall solution was to develop internal and external partnerships based on joint goals and mutual respect.

Aintree had chosen to partner with NHS Supply Chain (NHSSC), an organisation set up to provide healthcare products and supply chain services to the National Health Service. It transacts over 325,000 product lines and procures a further 386,000 for the NHS to access directly, and it does this through a range of suppliers reached via the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU). It covers every category needed to deliver cost-effective products to more than 1000 NHS Trusts and healthcare organisations across the UK, eliminating the need for them to spend time and money on the tendering process. It’s not a mandated service, but a partner of choice, so Trusts and other healthcare organisations can choose to partner to receive the benefits of getting a good price while retaining quality – this was another of the project goals.

We were able to ask Sue a few questions about what made the project so successful. We wanted to know, first-hand, why clinical engagement was so important to them.

“Clinical engagement is a crucial part of our procurement process. We have clinical leads identified against our work plans so we know in advance who we will be working with. We ensure all relevant clinicians that use the goods and services of a contract are involved from specification design to full user trial and evaluation (if required). The procurement team do not have the specialist knowledge to inform decisions around quality of products, so we rely heavily on their input.”

And what were the biggest challenges to getting the clinicians on board?

“Time …! Our clinicians have a day job and we are very respectful of that, to ensure best use of their time we organise meetings around their diary availability and environment. It isn’t unusual for our Procurement Managers to have meetings in and around Theatres. We are very lucky at Aintree that our culture has always been around engagement, we listen to clinicians to understand their requirements, that way we can provide the most appropriate advice and guidance on accessing the most appropriate supply route in a timely manner.”

How beneficial was it to have your partner NHS Supply Chain involved in clinician engagement? 

“When the decision was approved to move to a partnership with NHSSC, they were introduced as an extension of the Aintree team and not an external supplier pushing frameworks. We were appointed a Support Manager who spent 2-3 days on site and, depending on the category being tendered, we were further supported by Clinical Nurse Advisors and Specialist Category Buyers. This complimented the challenges we had with resource due to improved planning, assistance with trials etc. The balance we have had to strike is the work load versus clinical time available, especially in Theatres. NHSSC could actually have delivered more projects but the Trust wasn’t able to release the resource!”

Building on strong relationships with each of the CBUs, through the speciality leads, was a fundamental part of enabling the team to accelerate the savings the Trust needed through procurement. Thanks to Sue and Aintree for sharing their experience.

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First Voice

  1. Final Furlong:

    Good to see that we have at least one procurement leader who knows what needs to be done to deliver value in their trust while avoiding shopping for alternatives

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