Exclusive! Health buyers snub new Government Procurement Service “Agency Nurses” framework

On the 1st August 2013 the new Government Procurement Service (GPS) Agency Nurses & Social Care Workers framework went live.

It was promoted by GPS with benefits like these -

  • Significant savings against previous framework – up to 30% across all job roles and shifts.
  •  Sustainable pay rates maintained for temporary workers.
  • Stark variations in supplier charge rates removed.
  • Access to a manageable number of suppliers for direct award or further competition.ing Framework went live.

Then last week, the London Procurement Partnership announced this.

“Four NHS collaborative procurement bodies are working together on the joint procurement of a new national nursing agency framework for the NHS and other public sector organisations.

The four ‘hubs’, NHS Commercial Solutions, NHS North of England Commercial Procurement Collaborative, East of England NHS Collaborative Procurement Hub and NHS London Procurement Partnership , have agreed to actively develop a framework agreement that will meet the needs of all four hubs’ NHS member organisations”.

So the good news is that the health procurement hubs are working together, which is pretty much a first.  The bad news is that it looks like the health organisations weren’t too keen on the GPS framework.  We haven’t had time to investigate fully what has gone wrong with the GPS arrangement (in the eyes of the potential users at least), but this is what Alyson Brett, CEO of NHS Commercial Solutions (which covers the south-east of England) says on the LPP website –

Our members need a nursing agency framework which meets their needs. Above all, trusts need to be confident that they are employing high quality agency nurses who will provide the best care for patients. This framework – which will include a transparent pricing mechanism, regular auditing of agencies providing NHS staff, and ensure a recruitment process which is fully compliant with UK and EU legislation - will do just that.”

Does that suggest some of the failings of the GPS deal? We have heard comments that GPS didn’t engage stakeholders well enough, and also that in their desire to include lots of smaller firms on the approved supplier list, some key current suppliers missed out.  On the other hand, we should remember that the hubs get income when customers use their frameworks, so the cynic might suggest that as another possible motivator for this move?

But we’ll see if we can get some better insight into what has happened here. Clearly, rightly or wrongly, the GPS framework is not considered fit for purpose by many of the people who matter.

So this is a major kick in the teeth for GPS. It is outside their central government “heartland”, but this is a very large spend category – around half a BILLION pounds a year.  Losing spend in this area, which we have to assume they will once the new framework is in place next May, will certainly make a dent in the GPS business plan. And spare a thought for the suppliers, who thought they were getting a place on a major national framework, only to find just two months later that they’ll have to start the bidding process all over again.

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Voices (10)

  1. Peter Collis:

    On the Sidelines

    Life is good when it is SIMPLER. And it can be like that. Although the solution to the strategic workforce planning challenge faced by the NHS will be as difficult to find as the Higgs boson, addressing a key part of the problem is manageable and can deliver significant results in terms of reducing demand for agencies. There is a link between rostering, Bank and agency management that is not being utilised. And tools now exist to join these things together and address demand for agency workers. It just requires a more strategic or joined-up approach than is currently being taken via the frameworks.

  2. On the Sidelines:


    Life is good when it is simple.

    The simple question that needs answering here is why are NHS HR policies on recruitment and staffing and so failing the organisation that they have to spend half a Billion pounds with agency agencies for interims?

    On reflection central government procurement departments are already lloking to support from the interim market for what I suspect are very similar reasons.

    1. Sa:

      The simple question needs a simple answer …………PAY

  3. Peter Collis:

    Part of the problem here is that the primary objective of the frameworks is not clear. Is it to deliver a commercial benefit i.e. to maximise savings? Or is it to maximise access to key agency workers though a compliant route (and support SMEs etc.)? The two may not be compatible. The first is achieved through a consolidation of expenditure to increase leverage on the supply base. The second could be best achieved by widening access to as large a group of suppliers as possible. Also, the funding model for the hubs does not help. Increasing the levels of expenditure through a particular framework increases fees to the hub. If the hubs strategically sourcing agency expenditure they would be helping reduce demand for agency workers wherever and by what means possible i.e. promoting the idea of ‘not buying (if possible’), rather than simply ‘buying better’.

  4. Anon:

    1. London has had its own nursing framework for many years – and this will constitiute by far the largest proportion of spend of the ‘gang of four’.

    2. Your article asks us to ‘remember that the hubs get income when customers use their frameworks, so the cynic might suggest that as another possible motivator for this move?’ This is also true for GPS – and at roughly the same income levels.

    A more valid question that your article did not raise is the income that GPS generate from these frameworks. The income on £1billion is quite large. The category team for these staffing frameworks is quite small (too small for good stakeholder engagement it would seem).

    I suspect there are also other ‘cash cow’ frameworks in the GPS portfolio (e.g. energy).

  5. Pauline:

    Let’s not forget that HealthTrust Europe are also promoting an ‘Agency framework open to all’ at the same time (which I assume they get rebate from the suppliers on) and London had a separate deal (which I assume this is the renewal of?) and I am also aware of a number of local Trusts who have also gone to the market as the GPS doesn’t meet their needs (or their local suppliers aren’t on the agreement). Duplication again and again and let’s not forget the built in cost from suppliers having to respond. It does make you wonder who really is calling the shots here?

    1. Dan:

      “It does make you wonder who really is calling the shots here?”

      In all probability, no-one is. Which is part of the problem.

  6. Stephen Heard:

    How about this as an alternative scenario. The NHS procurement hubs have been steadily losing business to GPS and other procurement outsourcers, including the private sector, which has forced them to work together for the first time. They are now under pressure to secure thier future after the NHS procurement review highlights the inefficiencies in thier modus operandi hence the circling of the wagons and retreat to their heartland of nursing aka a last stand.

    1. Bill Atthetill:

      A decent supposition Stephen. However, curiousity got the better of me and a few enquiries with trust procurement leaders directly has revealed that GPS missed their mark by a mile on this one and trusts are right behind their hubs. In addition to the points raised by Peter, it seems that the GPS team put on this was constantly changing which is never going to work in a category like this. It’s one which you must get right first time. I have also heard that Bill Crother’s ‘grand plan’ is distracting those who are supposed to be delivering the procurements (and savings when they are needed most) which may have also contributed to them taking their eye off the ball. At least the hubs know their customers and, clearly, can be focused, going forward.

  7. Bill Atthetill:

    Well spotted Peter. What a disaster. (Bill will be crossing out a few names on his future org chart over this one.) Key stakeholder management is a major component of any successful ‘hub and spoke’ model, but if you what you’ve found out is true then, clearly, the wheel has come right off on this one.

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