HCSA Conference – A Good First Day, and a Mystery …

Yesterday morning dawned cold and bright (with scattered wintry showers) in the lovely Yorkshire spa town of Harrogate, home to Betty’s tea-shop and more upmarket kitchen shops than you could shake a £120 Aga saucepan at …

But that wasn’t what brought close to 300 NHS procurement professionals and some suppliers to the sector together at the International Conference Centre. No, it was the thrills and delights of the HCSA (Healthcare Supply Association) annual conference, with the “Stronger Together” tagline. And this year there was a very strong line-up, with senior folk from NHS Improvement as well as the Department of Health, including new Commercial Director Melinda Johnson.

There is always a lot going on in NHS procurement, inevitably given its size. But currently there seems more than ever to talk about, with the first new contracts within the “future operating model” (FOM) framework being awarded, the controversial procurement “league tables”, some eye-catching supplier partnerships recently announced by major Trusts, all within the wider environment of an NHS that is up against huge funding challenges – and many supply markets looking challenging too given Brexit, the decline of the £ and so on.

The HCSA took a major step recently, when it formally gained charitable status. That has various governance conditions, so much has been going on internally, but the move should put the organisation on a clearer and more sustainable path and indeed clarify its role somewhat. Lord Hunt, President of HCSA and a great supporter of NHS procurement for many years, opened the event with an excellent address, and made a plea for the NHS to be open to innovation from life science firms – otherwise the UK will be a less attractive location for their investment (see picture).

After Lord Hunt, we had Jeremy Marlow, Executive Director of Operational Productivity at NHS Improvement. That body is in some sense the “regulator” of the sector, so can play a role in identifying and promoting good practice, including in procurement and supply chain practice. We’ll have a more detailed look at his session in the coming days, but simply his presence was important for the audience (and for NHSI, we suggest).

Then a veritable mob of talent took to the stage for a panel discussion around the Procurement Transformation Programme and the FOM. Again, we’ll have more on that soon – it was, I suspect, very illuminating for many in the audience, although not everything is clear about the FOM! And we should acknowledge that the hoped for vigorous bidding from large numbers of global supply chain leaders did not really happen here, with DHL and the existing regional collaborative procurement bodies winning the contracts.

When it came to my speech, I discovered half way through that my slide about FOM had disappeared from my presentation pack! Was this suspicious, given I had some somewhat challenging questions about the initiative? No, probably just a cock-up (and probably mine) but it makes for a good conspiracy theory …

Unfortunately, I can’t be there today at the second day of the event, but we’re hoping we might get more reports from our spies – I mean, our valued correspondents. So look out for that too.

And the quote of the day came from one of the legends of the NHS procurement world, during a discussion about the need for clinicians and procurement to engage – “we generally see excellent clinical engagement at Trust level. Unfortunately, it’s between clinicians and suppliers …”

Voices (2)

  1. ScottP:

    Your presentations are always great Peter.

    Some opinions…

    #1 Clinician : procurement relationships have never been stronger in the UK NHS as evidenced in GIRFT and Scan4Safety, but also across the countries great Clinical Procurement Specialist engagement and delivery. This is potentially a game changer globally & certainly for the NHS.

    #2 I can testify to some of the questionable aspects of FOM having sat in most of the presentations and listened to objections and questions, but could the lack of bidders to FOM is actually a good thing ? The high margin low value operators couldn’t find a way in and those willing to flex and work to NHS conditions, margins remained…. we’ll see. The NHS should be the toughest market in the world for for high margin / low value companies ( and the easiest for truly innovative, high value, high margin operators I should add).

    #3 You didn’t mention the PPIB or Procurement Analytics ? If you look at the US / UK attempts at price transparency and the associated Medtech lobby and litigation over the past decade, you can not fail to see how the huge leap that we’ve taken in the past year to full data sharing across NHS England sets the scene for some big changes, particularly when associated with clinically led initiatives such as GIRFT and product level outcome registries.

    #4 The HCSA conference and year long engagement at all levels has been much better than say 4 years ago. I think that this reflects the increasing effectiveness and influence of the profession generally at every level.

    1. Peter Smith:

      Thanks Scott and I accept / agree with all your comments. I do take a deliberately provoking line at these events, as I think you know! (I do particularly like your point about the “low value, high margin” providers). I’m sorry we didn’t get a chance to speak yesterday but can I also say I’m delighted to see you within the NHS Scott! You will be a real asset to the organisation I’m sure, as that rare beast who understands spend analytics AND the NHS in real depth. Look forward to speaking.

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