Exclusive! Lord Carter Snubs NHS Procurement Conference – HCSA Delegates Distraught!

Lord_Carter_of_ColesThe big news from the HCSA (health care supplies association) annual conference in Manchester is that Lord Carter, who Chairs the NHS Procurement and Efficiency Board, isn't turning up today to give his keynote address. He's in New York apparently.

He has been booked for the event for months and he has left NHS procurement professionals and related people at the event feeling very disappointed. He's been leading the procurement programme for the Department of Health since June, and this would have been a great opportunity for him to communicate what he is doing to a bunch of key stakeholders and explain how he sees procurement tin the system developing. Instead, he's left people questioning whether he has the commitment to lead this important work. Or is it just another impressive sounding government committee that will decorate his cv without leading to tangible results?

The event kicked off at lunchtime yesterday and finishes tonight with a gala dinner and awards - best procurement of an international kidney, that sort of thing. It appears to be a sell-out in terms of capacity, with around 200 delegates, which makes it probably the largest health procurement event in the UK. There are also over twenty firms that are sponsors and / or exhibiting at the event. A big success, and given the climate of austerity, "there will be no drinking" the Chairman announced!

So what were the highlights from yesterday afternoon, apart from my speech (!?) and the rather weird blue light in the room (see picture).

hcsaJohn Warrington from the central department of health procurement team gave us a very useful update, including a good explanation actually of where Lord Carter wants to take his work and procurement generally. Carter seems to have widened his brief to a more general "efficiency" focus, which has some positives and some negatives for procurement. A broader scope and chance to influence widely; or just too big an area to address? We'll see. There is also a major focus on producing efficiency statistics for hospital trusts in a similar way to what you can apparently see in the USA - "total supply cost per patient day" as a metric, for instance.

The danger here is that such metrics test efficiency not effectiveness. So I had a bit of a debate with John around the need to look at those measures alongside health outcome data. Otherwise, I can easily see how to reduce the supply cost per patient day - just don't feed them!

Carter has also appointed his own board of advisers, a mix of private sector and public. But his absence from Manchester means we won't get the chance to hear him describe his aims and methods in his own words. But his re-focusing perhaps explains why some aspects of the 2013 procurement strategy which was published by the Department of Health appear to be running out of steam already. The feeling from various hospital procurement people I spoke to is that there simply aren't enough good procurement people in DH to drive the change needed.

In terms of my session, I swapped emails last weekend with an old friend, now working in the health sector. Was she coming to the event? I asked. Yes, she said, just for the Wednesday session, and she was looking forward to my session "because you'll be funny." Talk about expectations! Of course, I had written a totally unfunny, deeply insightful (?) 25 minutes or so, which meant I felt duty bound to go back and add at least a couple of jokes to keep my friend happy. Unfortunately, my opening joke did not go down very well - nothing like 200 people sitting in puzzled silence...

Also unfortunately, Lord Carter has gone down in the estimation of a big chunk of the NHS procurement community. That's a shame. And we'll have more on the event next week as well.

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Voices (3)

  1. Simon Walsh HCSA Chairman:

    We were naturally disappointed that Lord Carter was unable to attend as planned though our Open Forum Question Time seemed to go very well.
    Lord Carter has met a number of HCSA members at all levels and I do hope that he will still in the future be able to address an HCSA Event. He would as you know be very welcome.

  2. Bob Beveridge:

    I would point out that there are lots and lots of different conferences in the NHS world. This may be a good one but people could waste a lot of time at conferences. I think the web information and discussion services have possibly reduced the need for listening to boring speeches. And we can network without alcohol. So maybe Lord Carter is sending us all a signal.

  3. Sam Unkim:

    “total supply cost per patient day” isn’t just a metric in the USA. – It’s part of the invoice.
    Now think about why, the Tories, are pushing so hard for this in England.

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