06 June 2002 | David Arminas
The NHS Purchasing and Supply Agency (Pasa) has sent letters to all trusts asking for volunteers to set up six pilot schemes for regional purchasing consortia.
The move kicks off a drive to establish the "supply management confederations" proposed by Duncan Eaton, Pasa's chief executive, at last month's conference of healthcare professionals.
Eaton told delegates that NHS purchasers would be under increased pressure to get value for money as the health service is to receive a £40 billion cash injection over the next five years.
A recent Audit Commission report found that half the £11 billion spent annually by the NHS on supplies was unlikely to be delivering value for money.
A Pasa spokesperson said the six pilot schemes should be up and running by the end of July.
Pasa is determined to raise the profile of purchasers to meet the challenge. Last month, Lord Hunt, the health minister, attacked NHS procurement as "unacceptable", saying he has made it a priority to tackle a shortage of qualified, experienced procurement staff.
But David Forsyth, chief executive of the West Sussex Shared Services Consortium (WSSSC), said Hunt's call was only half the answer to better procurement.
Forsyth wanted student doctors and nurses to take some courses on basic purchasing and supplier relations and how they affect the bottom line of a trust.
He said: "We need to get nurses and doctors in medical schools more aware of a business agenda, including supplier relations."
Forsyth was head of procurement at Royal Berkshire & Battle NHS Hospitals Trust before his recent move to WSSSC, which provides services to primary care trusts and groups of GPs.
"Part of the problem is the ongoing debate about how far the NHS can force GPs, who are mostly self-employed, to change their buying practices and leave a comfort zone of dealing with their usual suppliers," he added.