Our Hot Topic for November – NHS Procurement

Our Hot Topic for November is NHS Procurement – everything related to the many billions of pounds spent by the health system in the UK.

We chose this topic to fit with the Healthcare Supplies Association (HCSA) annual conference in Solihull this month on November 25th – 26th. I am a late addition (4pm on day 2) to the agenda and I’m rushing to Solihull from another engagement I could not get out of, so I’m going to miss most of the event, very sadly. But I will be staying for dinner and I will get to hear Lord Hunt closing the event, which is bound to be a highlight.

It is a strong agenda, with Pat Mills, the relatively new Commercial Director at the Department of Health confirmed as a keynote speaker, along with Sally Collier, CEO of Crown Commercial Services and lots of top health procurement practitioners as well.

The Carter report will no doubt be a topic for debate, although in the couple of years since this was first mooted, its focus has to a considerable extent moved away from procurement. Carter got more interested in wider process and cost issues as he got into the review, so the emphasis now seems to be primarily on workforce issues; planning and scheduling of staff, and more general process effectiveness. The cost of procured items is still in there somewhere, but it certainly is not at the centre now.

That’s a shame; it looks like this is going to be just another in a long string of procurement reports saying that “there are opportunities to buy better” without really doing much to change how things work. Would it have been different if Carter had got BravoSolution to carry out the data gathering exercise rather than the firm who were for some unknown reason engaged? We suspect so, but it’s too late now.

More positively, we know (and have reported at times) on excellent work being done in various trusts; Plymouth, Durham, Portsmouth, Oxford, Leeds, Heart of England, London... that’s not an exhaustive list by the way, and we would encourage you to tell us your success stories too. There is still not enough sharing of good practice around the sector; we can do our little bit here to help by featuring positive case studies.

Technology is beginning to have an impact too, and again we have featured some very interesting work here – for instance, when you carry out ‘traditional’ spend analytics, but across different Trusts, then combine that with heath outcome data, you start to get some very interesting results and some clear suggested actions. Meanwhile, a large amount of money is being spent on the GS1 programme – we don’t pretend to understand every aspect of that debate, but a suspicion remains that this might be an expensive blind alley. There’s a lot of coverage of that issue at the HCSA event too.

There’s more to think about too in the health procurement space – how on earth the competitive framework of clinical commissioning groups and Trusts competing for formal contracts fits with the new “planned health economy” emerging in Manchester and beyond; the future of NHS Supply Chain; the problems at the intersection of health and social care, as care providers threaten to desert the industry...

So there is plenty to write about this month, and we’d love to get some interesting, informed and provoking guest articles from our readers as well. They can even be anonymous if you wish!

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Voices (5)

  1. Mark Lainchbury:

    Whilst I did snigger at the difference between John Warrington’s dream and John Warrington’s dreamworld, it’s a bold person, who states (on a public forum) that some new technology will “never happen”.

    1. Secret Squirrel:


      I actually meant the investment. The numbers required to make it practically happen on a centralised basis as so huge, it won’t get signed off.

      I suspect the same locally. When budget pressures come on, no one will invest to save in procurement technology. When budget pressures come off, you’ll get little money as its all spent on buying capital programmes and investing in staffing, not on making stock control better.

      Should it be that way? No. But in a hospital (rightly or wrongly), procurement and supply chain technology is part of the back office, not the frontline. That’s not the same perception in retail where a investment in supply chain directly leads to a better customer experience and increased profit. Here, the customer experience is indirectly related to procurement and is more closely aligned to the quality of the doctors, nurses, AHPs, HCAs they experience, not the goods used on them.


      1. Mark Lainchbury:

        Thinly veiled attempt, on my part to get last word.
        But this document in a nice summary of the size of the GS1 prize (Skip to Page3 – Key Aims and Benefits)


        and perhaps explains why, Lord Carter’s report, quickly lost its pure procurement focus.

  2. Secret Squirrel:

    Must disagree, Mark.

    GS1 is an expensive blind alley built on a centralist agenda in John Warrington’s procurement dream world.

    Why? Because the aims are mostly to get better data, which must imply collaborative procurement. Except all the organisational barriers remain in place, which aren’t there in retail. Active RFID even more so. Hugely expensive to implement and run. May be useful for high value theatre stock but mostly not.

    Simpler, older technology will implement faster and more effectively and not require huge central investment, which will never happen.

  3. Mark Lainchbury:

    Re: GS1 programme & expensive blind alley.

    If it’s a blind alley, then it’s one the retail sector have sunk millions into with huge success & one NHS are 20 years late to as usual.

    Forget bar-codes, they are so 1995.

    GS1 is going to / should (through active telepresent RFIDs.) underpin Patient treatment & costing & the whole “internet of things” on the NHS estate and upstream supply chain.

    Frankly it’s getting to the point, where the whole product provisioning side of the NHS should be solely fixated on a rapid (as possible) implementation.

    Or we could just muddle along and install all these systems piecemeal and never see the full benefits (Until Skynet becomes sentient 🙁 ). How many Trusts are already using disparate RFID systems to track Patient-Note folders, Medical equipment & Patients (thru their Wrist Bands) – without a common GLN hospital wide taxonomy ?

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