The NHS Procurement Strategy – a nation (still) waits

So what’s happened to the UK’s National Health  Service Procurement strategy?

The story so far... (you might want to get a cup of coffee and settle down, this might be a long one).

April 2012            At a conference in Manchester, the new NHS procurement strategy is going to be announced. Instead, the excellent Beth Loudon from Department of Health has to explain that top NHS management wanted more discussion with the market, and more “meat” in the strategy so there would be a delay whilst...

May 2012             NHS appoints Sir Ian Carruthers to conduct a “call for evidence” to help develop the procurement strategy. Hundreds of people and organisations respond. Carruthers says the results and strategy will be published by the end of 2012.

Also May 2012   Raising our Game appears – a document laying out NHS procurement standards – not a full strategy, but good stuff nonetheless and well received generally.

Dec. 31st 2012   We stay in waiting to read the strategy, but alas, nothing appears.          

January 2013      The strategy will be published very soon, “end of March” we are told.

End of March     No it isn’t. April maybe?

April 2013            No.

May 2013             As the tumbleweed rolls around the deserted office with the “NHS Procurement Review team” sign on the door, Sir Ian Carruthers says, “procurement strategy? Me? No, you must be mistaken...”

OK, I was making up that last one. But, following some detective work that Sherlock Holmes would have proud of, we can present the following theory as to what is going on.

We understand that Sir Ian Carruthers has retired. Given NHS South, which he ran, no longer exists, and he seems to have disappeared from the web, this may well be true. So responsibility for the Strategy has reverted to Department of Heath core commercial team, who are trying to “make it into something that is pragmatic and achievable”.

It looks like the initial version was too full of grandiose ideas that were never likely to be deliverable,  given cost pressures, and the independence of much of the health network (Foundation Trusts, Clinical Commissioning Groups, etc). Imposing mandated procurement approaches on the network was just never going to work, for instance. So our sources suggest there will be something published before too long (mind you, we’ve heard that before) – we wait with severely baited breath!

The other interesting piece of news – or suggestion at least – we picked up is the likelihood that Peter Coates, Commercial Director at the Department of Health, will retire in the Autumn. Coates hasn’t been a high profile as some government procurement and commercial heads, but he’s been involved in some successful ventures over the years, and should take credit for getting both NHS Shared Business Services and Supply Chain into a pretty good state now.

Assuming we can confirm this (and I’m guessing we’ll hear quickly if we’re wrong! ) we’ll hope to have an interview with him before he departs forever from the luxurious Department of Health offices in exotic Elephant and Castle...

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Voices (5)

  1. Simon Walsh:

    The Health Care Supply Association ( HCSA) met with Dr Dan Poulter MP – Parliamentary Under Secreatry of State on Tuesday 14 th May. Dr Poulter was accompanied by John Warrington ( Deputy Director of DH PICD).

    We had a very productive and interesting discussion across a wide range of NHS

    Procurement issues. it was clear that HM Government is keen to support NHS Procurement and future announcements were indicated.

    Sir Ian’s work along with the strong support we have been fortunate to have from

    Peter Coates have laid the foudations for NHS procurement development.

    But……. Ultimately NHS Trusts. and the procurement professionals within them must work to shape their own destiny as well.

    Simon Walsh

    Chairman HCSA Membership is free to NHS procurement staff

  2. Daphne Havercroft:

    Come to Bristol on 25th June 2013 and ask Sir Ian in person what his Procurement Strategy delivered. It’s free! The event, not the Procurement Strategy.

  3. Trevor Black:

    Part of the current ‘procurement strategy’ is that candidates for procurement posts must have NHS experience. It would be fascinating to get behind this thinking as I would have thought that having the NHS culture embedded in your career path would be a major disadvantage if you were intending to inject (no pun intended) good commercial practices into the organisation.

    1. Sam Unkim:

      Hi Trevor

      [citation needed] methinks

  4. Ben Glynn:

    The plot thickens! It sounds like a future episode of “Panorama” Peter..

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