Exclusive! Sir Ian Carruthers to lead procurement efforts in the UK’s Health Service

I was at the “A New Strategy for NHS Procurement conference" in Manchester yesterday. This was originally going to see the first public exposure of the new NHS procurement strategy, but in the last few weeks the strategy has been “superseded” - so it's not appearing now. Certain aspects will be published in May – for instance, a set of "procurement standards" – but a full strategy won't be out till the end of 2012.

That will give time for more work to be done and a consultation period. According to the official line, the hiatus is because Top People in the NHS  have “got it” in terms of the importance of procurement and therefore want some further time to strengthen the strategy, compared to what was about to be published.

So we might take some positives from that – isn't it good that senior folk are so concerned about the strategy? But I could be more cynical and suggest that if it's really taken until now for, say, Sir David Nicholson, NHS Chief Executive, to “get” how important procurement is, then that's pretty shocking really given he's been in the NHS for 30 years and CEO since 2006...

But let's be thankful for small mercies if the penny has finally dropped. I was also told yesterday that there will be more funding available to make the new strategy happen – that's good, as the QIPP procurement workstream has been chronically under-funded, as we reported some time ago.

The other big news – uncovered through Sherlock Holmes type deductive powers rather than through loose talk from anyone – is that we understand the new procurement figurehead who will oversee the development of the strategy will be Sir Ian Carruthers.

Sir Ian Carruthers

Carruthers has been a NHS administrator for many years, with his rise to fame coming mainly through a series of roles in Dorset, then a brief stint as Chief Exec of the NHS in 2006, and he's also been acting director of Commissioning for that organisation. He started his health career in Cumbria, where he also won County honours at football, rugby and cricket in his younger days (thanks Wikipedia). “A fine wicketkeeper”, our sources tell us.

He’s been chairing the Innovation, Health and Wealth Implementation Board recently and is NHS South of England Chief Executive. One might wonder therefore whether he’s got time to be the NHS Procurement supremo as well but we’ll see -  I have no personal experience of him or opinions about his suitability for the role.

But one comment I heard suggested that he will be giving a lot of weight to how the supply side feel about the emerging strategy. While clearly there's a place for involving suppliers to the health sector in the debate, we would hope that they're not in the driving seat here – there would be a pretty obvious conflict of interest there!

Anyway, back to the conference. It was a good event, well chaired by the ubiquitous Colin Cram, with an impressive 200-ish delegates attending and some interesting sessions. We'll come back to the key messages next week when we cover some of the output in more detail.

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Voices (7)

  1. Sam Unkim:

    “but a full strategy won’t be out till the end of 2012”
    Obviously the very end !!

  2. Final Furlong:

    What is slightly concerning about the conference this week was the fact that it wasn’t even organised and run by the Department of Health, but by a private events company charging circa £300 per delegate (and that added to the costs of overnight hotel fees and travel, probably equating to the same amount) for the privilege of turning up to hear DH officials state what could have been articulated in a couple of lines in an email.

    Let’s imagine that all of the 200-ish delegates were from the NHS, being charged £295 (plus non-recoverable VAT at £59), plus £80 on average (at the low end) as a ‘blended calculation’ for all other costs. That’s an impressive total (potential) bill to the NHS of circa £86,800. How many full time nurses is that?

  3. Andrew Butcher:

    Good to see you yesterday Peter. It was disappointing to find the New Strategy will not be attempting to sort out the collaborative procurement mess that exists currently. I totally agree with your view on how easily the problems could be solved. If the inhibiting factor is that the NHS now consists of independant Foundation Trusts, maybe the answer is to scrap them?

    I confirm that Ian Carruthers was an excellent wicket keeper and batsman as I played with him but given the opportunity, I will remind him of how he viewed “Supplies” in his early years!!

  4. Sam Unkim:

    My guess is that Sir David Nicholson started to “get it” by about question 8 of the PUBLIC ACCOUNTS Committee on Nhs Trust Procurement – back in 2011


    Of course we still havent seen much of his “system” to do something about it (answer30) which was due in “weeks”

    1. Final Furlong:

      One of favourite questions (and answers) at the PAC, and on the public record, is this one, provoked, as ever, by the indefatigable Mr Bacon:

      Howard Rolfe: “…..a good question for a Trust board would be, “What are your top 10 non-pay spends, and how do those prices compare with the best quartile in your region?”

      Q27 Mr Bacon: “How many Trust boards do you think ask those questions?”

      Howard Rolfe: “Well, you can imagine.”

      Mr Bacon: “No, I cannot. I am not very imaginative. There are those who think I am, but I am not. I have no imagination and I am asking you to help me out. How many boards do you think can answer those questions, or even ask them?”

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