HCSA in Cardiff – Singing, Bog Rolls and the North Will Rise Again

Well, that was some way to open a procurement conference – the Healthcare Supplies Association (HCSA) annual conference, that is, held in the very impressive Cardiff City Hall.  

A short “welcome to Wales” video then onto the stage walked a 40-strong mixed voice choir, making a beautiful noise that certainly made the proverbial hairs on the back of my neck tingle for four songs, including of course Bread of Heaven. I think it should now be compulsory for every procurement event to open with singing …

Did you know, by the way, that there are 641 castles in Wales – more per square mile than any other country in Europe? And around 400 people at the event, I would say. 

The event was chaired by Dr Thomas Kelley, a clinician – he was a good chair and also has amazing hair. He introduced keynote speaker Roy Lilley, whose daily emails I have followed for some years and he turned out to be as good live as he is on paper. He’s an excellent, engaging speaker, as well as having interesting views on many NHS matters. And he was apparently once - during his time as a senior NHS executive - the Chairman of the Standing Committee on Supplies and Purchasing, he told us!

He is not a fan of centralised procurement, as he had a bit of a go about the Lord Carter “cheaper bog rolls” efforts! He didn’t say much really about procurement, but he did say that procurement people should be curious – we should want to know if and how others are better than us.

We have a Secretary of State who has an app for everything, Lilley pointed out. But we need to get the BASICS  right – for example, B for “backwards” – start from the patient and work backwards, that was his big theme.  “You can’t change anything from the top” was his final message. The only way to change is by sharing best practice, asking the people who are doing the job. That’s interesting, because much of what is happening in the NHS procurement space has arguably been pretty top down, the FOM model in particular.

In other sessions, we heard from Dr Andrew Goodall, top man in NHS Wales and we got into some of the big issues facing NHS procurement. He talked about value-based procurement - focusing on best possible clinical and patient outcomes. Mike Hyne from NHS Improvement talked about the NHS Procurement Model Programme, which is looking at the procurement operating model across the NHS. This is linked to the somewhat controversial consulting project that we wrote about recently, and we may come back to this – he was talking really about a total transformation of NHS Trust procurement, which is a fine idea in theory, but I’m not convinced it is deliverable in the manner it is being set up.  

We had an interesting session about the “model hospital”, which is not a film set for Casualty but an online resource with lots of good benchmarking and other information to help Trusts identify and implement improvements.

Then we finished the afternoon with a highlight – Melinda Johnson, who became Commercial Director at the Department of Health just over a year ago, telling us what she has been doing and wants to do next.  We will definitely come back with more detail on her presentation – I found out more about what the Government Commercial Organisation is up to from her, for example, than I have heard from anyone in Cabinet Office for a year or more.

She’s a great networker (and I say that as a compliment) and she is particularly proud of her efforts to set up a Government Commercial Function Northern Hub, to attract, recruit, develop and retain the best people into public procurement north of Birmingham. It’s a great idea – “it’s ridiculous that all the best commercial jobs are in London” she said! Johnson said all the right things to the HCSA audience (and I’m sure she meant them) – she combines personal warmth with competence and determination, which is a powerful combination.

More to come anyway, and Cardiff is an exciting City these days. I wandered round after the programme finished, the shopping is amazing, the number of bars, pubs and clubs even more so, and the Xmas market which opens soon looks like it will be excellent. And Bring Me The Horizon, top UK metal / indie band, were playing the Motorpoint arena, 50 yards from my hotel! I was tempted to ask the touts how much they wanted for a ticket, but I decided to sit in my hotel room and write this instead ... 

I’m presenting tomorrow at HCSA, courtesy of Pentax Medial Equipment (“endoscopes you’ll love”!), and don’t forget I am chairing another NHS Procurement event in Salford in two weeks' time – and you can still book here (free for practitioners). There is so much going on in the sector at the moment, there will be no shortage of things to discuss there, I’m sure.


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