13 July 2000 | Liam O'Brien
An NHS trust's "homemade" e-procurement system, claimed to be thousands of pounds cheaper than established packages, is being adopted by other trusts.
Birmingham Specialist Community Health NHS Trust's electronic catalogue, which was designed by an in-house team and went live last month, is set to be used by two of the city's primary-care trusts, Greater Yardley and Birmingham North East, in October.
David Coley, the trust's head of procurement and developer of the system, said that it costs £2,000 to implement - for software upgrades and staff training - but costs nothing to use after that.
The system has the same functionality as other suppliers' more expensive offerings, he claimed.
Its main advantages, according to Coley, are that the trust retains control of its contracting programme and that its electronic catalogues are the result of focused purchasing that is sensitive to local requirements.
Coley is recommending that other health trusts follow Birmingham's lead. "A lot of buyers are hooked on flashy catalogues and have not thought through the supply chain implications. We have got the governance, probity and control of our system really sorted out."
All 10 primary-care trusts in the Birmingham area are being offered free use of Coley's system, which functions via the NHS's intranet.
The NHS Purchasing and Supply Agency (PSA) has not yet issued formal advice on how trusts should implement e-procurement.
IBM's Supply Stream system is available to trusts through the PSA, but take up of it has been slow. Around 20 of the 392 trusts in England and Wales are thought to be using it, while about 70 are thought to be using McKeown's Integra.
But Tony Davies, BT professor of e-commerce at Cardiff University, warned that there are risks surrounding the in-house route: "Often these things have not been thought through properly and are not maintained or developed as new applications and standards come along.
"Unlike in-house providers, third-party providers are obliged to provide a service that is compatible with emerging standards," he said.
Neil Baker, Supply Stream project executive at IBM Global Services, said that trust staff should ensure that their own systems comply with the Department of Health's directive, which states that trusts must conduct e-procurement by the end of this year.
He said their systems should also comply with the European directive that states that large tender notices must be published in the Official Journal of the European Communities.