04 May 2000 | Elizabeth Bellamy
Adoption of the NHS's new e-procurement system has been slow because trusts prefer to use their own catalogues, according to a trust purchasing head.
"There has been a pitiful take-up of the Supply Stream system," said David Coley, head of procurement at Birmingham Specialist Community Health NHS Trust.
This is partly because some trusts preferred to manage their e-procurement catalogues in-house, rather than use the Supply Stream catalogues that are handled by the NHS Purchasing and Supply Agency (PSA), added Coley.
Coley said he was in favour of using the in-house system, as it meant that key skills and competencies were left within trusts.
Following last year's Cabinet Office review of NHS purchasing, trusts have until the end of the year to prove they can deliver the intended benefits of the PSA's e-procurement system or an "appropriate electronic equivalent".
One of these benefits is better access to information about trust purchasing patterns, according to the PSA's last annual report.
But despite this deadline, many trusts are choosing to use other models instead, said Coley. "Managing our own catalogue lets us tailor it to our own organisation and respond to marketplace conditions more effectively," he said. "It also gives us more control and allows us to manage our suppliers more proactively."
The NHS modelled Supply Stream on e-procurement work at the Birmingham trust - one of the first trusts to introduce e-procurement. But the trust has been using an older system, Integra, since 1995, through which it channels an annual spend of £38 million.
Seventy of the NHS's 392 English and Welsh trusts use Integra, said Nick Wheatley, public sector sales manager at McKeown, the software company that co-developed the Integra system. Supply Stream was better suited to trusts that did not have the people, time or experience to manage their own catalogues effectively, he said.
There are 20 trusts signed up to the new system, according to Neil Baker, Supply Stream project executive at IBM Global Services, the IT firm that developed Supply Stream with the NHS.
Baker was confident that this figure would rise and that more trusts would take up a Supply Link, a related product that integrates with trusts' existing enterprise resource planning systems.
But non-usage of the product meant that the PSA's access to purchasing information would be limited, in turn hindering its efforts to set up national contracts, he added.