06 April 2000 | Elizabeth Bellamy
Purchasers are seeking extra training and support to help them cope with the projected increase in demands on staff after the government unveiled plans to boost NHS spending in last month's budget.
Some of the extra £2 billion, which is being spread over the next four years, will be used to recruit and train 10,000 nurses, but it is unclear how the rest will be spent. Officials have started talks to set out an NHS national plan, which will focus on such areas as clinical performance and improving professional training and work practices. The results will be released this summer.
The spending increase, which exceeds inflation by 6.1 per cent, was announced by the chancellor of the exchequer, Gordon Brown, as part of his budget speech. It has been welcomed by trust procurement heads.
Stephen Jones, head of purchasing and supply at Salford Royal Hospitals NHS Trust, said the government's focus on improving heart and cancer services will probably see spending on this type of medical equipment go up.
While this will create extra work for trust purchasing teams, Jones doubted that additional staff would be recruited. He called for funds to be put into staff training, an area for improvement identified in a Cabinet Office review of NHS purchasing last year.
Trusts would have to work hard to justify all of the extra funding and the government would monitor performance closely, said Jones, adding that he would "not be surprised" if league tables and random inspection teams, similar to those in the education sector, were introduced.
Following another of the review's recommendations, trusts already have to prove that they have made annual savings of 3 per cent on purchasing budgets, and key performance indicators must be in place for the next financial year.
Fiona Grimshaw, purchasing manager at healthcare services company McKesson HBOC and chair of CIPS's healthcare committee, said pressures on staff would grow following the funding announcement and cabinet review. "I would not have thought that the extra cash would limit pressures on supplies staff to produce cost savings, as the idea seems to be that this money can be used for patient care," she said.
But Grimshaw called for the government to reveal where funding would be allocated. "There is always a lot of publicity about a lack of doctors and nurses but there are other professions that make up the team," she said.
Stephen Dickinson, head of purchasing at Kingston Hospital NHS Trust, said that trust purchasers would have to fight to be heard. "This government is interested in procurement but, with the best will in the world I don't think it will be a high priority," he said.