Health Care Supply Association Summer Conference – Highlights From Sunny Solihull

Last Thursday the Health Care Supply Association held its summer conference in Solihull.

This is a secondary event to the major annual conference in the Autumn, and it is the first time I’ve attended this version, but it still attracted some 200 people. I’ve been going to HCSA events for around 6 or 7 years, and what is noticeable is how the level of seniority has increased over that time. Even for this event, a high proportion of the delegates were heads of and directors of procurement and supply chain from major hospital trusts, as well as CCGs and other associated health bodies.

I gave a keynote in the morning - which we’ll leave for the moment - then we heard from Nishan Sunthares of the Association of British HealthTech Industries (ABHI), the organisation that represents many of the sector providers. He probably had to put a positive spin on the changes coming in the NHS procurement system and landscape, but he sounded convincing when he explained that the organisation hoped to see a procurement approach that was less narrow, price focused, transactional and adversarial! I think we could all buy into that …

He made several interesting points, one being that if one hospital changes its approach, even if it is a positive direction, then it is not easy for industry to change in response, but if 50 change, that is different. So he hopes that the more co-ordinated approach now developing will help in that sense. He also touched on the post-Brexit picture. The UK is strong in the sector, and the prize is to use data to drive value-based healthcare. “The prize is transformational”, and the NHS needs to see industry as a partner, understand value and the value chain, with procurement as a key enabler in that.

Following him, a highlight of the day was the chance to hear from four senior executives who work for what we must now learn to call the Supply Chain Co-ordination Limited (SCCL)  – previously known as the “Intelligent Client Co-ordinator” within the Future Operating Model.

This body will manage the “category towers” for the 11 category groups, and provide the interface between the towers, the logistics and technology providers, and the Trusts. Progress has certainly been made, although we won’t know for a year or two whether this is all really working, but the four did well, we thought, even if Alan Wain, COO for SSCL is (how can we put this gently …) comes over as very sound but is not perhaps the most engrossing or engaging presenter we’ve ever heard.

We’ll come back to their session in more detail, but we have to mention the very odd senior management structure of the SCCL – Wain reports to CEO Jin Sahota, sits on the Exec Board, but has basically everything customers care about under him, all the contract management and “towers” liaison, logistics, and customer facing activities. Yet there are no less than six other “support” directors (HR, Finance, Strategy etc) all at Board level. It just looks daft, and also looks remarkably like the way Crown Commercial Services used to be structured until Malcom Harrison said “I want people who are actually delivering on my Board”.

Anyway, after lunch (the vultures descended leaving me with just a few fish goujons), we had an excellent session from Andrew Daly, a partner at lawyers Hempsons. He’s someone who can make the finer points of EU procurement rules interesting, Or maybe I’m just a sad person who thinks that the minutiae of how you run tender evaluation moderation is quite fascinating. Judges and courts agree by the way – how contracting authorities should run moderation processes to avoid challenges form unhappy bidders was one of many useful areas covered.

I had to leave half way through the final keynote session from Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust on their procurement transformation experience, but from what I heard it managed to both give practical advice and be inspirational, without slipping into the “look how clever we are” trap. Well done to that team. And many apologies to HCSA chief Officer Alan Hoskins, as I missed all of his closing remarks. I heard they were amazing though …

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Voices (5)

  1. Sam Unkim:

    Wait till Tony Collins finds out Alan Wain was instrumental in the Cornwall / BT outsource !!

  2. Rasputin:

    The £70m extra cost being top sliced via tariff isn’t going down very well with some CFO’s, expect a bit of a stand off with Dh.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if we ended up with the Treasury funding the ‘additional costs’ and Trusts paying back a share of the savings when they were delivered, a sort of benefits sharing model.

    1. NHS Buyer2:

      I’ve seen a figure of £160m.
      I’ve seen a figure of £260m.
      Where does £70m come from? Or is that just the difference in year one – it eventually rises to a difference [increase] of £100 pa?
      Imagine if could go to our Trust Boards asking for a 60% cost increase on the back of a back-of-fag packet business case.

  3. NHS Buyer:

    It was a great conference and I’m looking forward to the next one in November.
    I can’t help feel, as heads of procurement, we have been caught asleep at the wheel on this latest journey to change procurement in the NHS. We looked up at the top team of the emerging SCCL (a subsidiary limited company) and could only see one credible person who might actually deliver anything.
    Picking up on your comment that “it just looks daft”, it’s clear that this team parachuted in from Cabinet Office (Sahota, Wain etc) have simply designed roles into which they have inserted themselves without any formal process.
    I’ve seen Sahota and, beyond doubt, if you were to cast aside the complete lack of content and self-deprecation, and ignore the BS, he might actually inspire others into action. Sadly, Wain demonstrated a rare talent for sucking the life out of a entire conference room of previously resilient people who, until that point, were keen to serve out their careers supporting the NHS. While you wish to put it gently, someone simply needs to say it as it is. His presentation on VAT was inspirational – it made me want to start drinking again.
    It was also odd to hear Wain say to us “blame me for FOM because I was responsible for it”. I thought it was an IT consultant called Chris Sterling who, after creating this mess, promptly evaporated and as an interim couldn’t be made accountable for it.
    And in a similar vein to SCCL (set up as a limited company to be ‘efficient’), I was particularly impressed by Wain’s public declaration that we are all ‘tax avoiders’ by setting up subsidiary limited companies, and, heaven forbid, for awarding managed service contracts. I would encourage him to repeat this at the HFMA annual conference. If my Trust won’t fund a ticket, I would pay for one out of my own pocket to see that! Aside from yourself Peter, journalists were also in attendance, and one hopes that someone issues an FOI to Cabinet Office to determine whether Wain is occupying his role through his own ‘service company’, Novaplex Solutions Limited. (A director in a limited company usually employs a good accountant to minimise tax and claim back all VAT, doesn’t he?). Is he a permanent employee or a contractor? Who really knows, but a glance at companies house (we use it to check suppliers) has exposed that it is a live company. I think we need to know.

    1. NHS Buyer2:

      Describing all of us as tax avoiders was simply stupid. And especially if it’s true about him running his own limited company. It just shows though that this wasn’t about winning any of us over, or bringing us along, but simply telling us all that we’re subservient to the organisation they’re imposing on us. I’m growing sick and tired of hearing the words “we won’t need all of the procurement staff in NHS trusts in the future”. A fabricated notion that is aimed at justifying the hefty £260m pa future cost of the ICC, and nothing more.

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