05 June 2003 | Robin Parker
Hospital supplies worth £3.5 billion could be bought online this year after the NHS set up one of the biggest e-ordering systems in the world in only four months.
The first phase of the NHS Purchasing and Supply Agency's (Pasa) online catalogue project, known as NHS-ecat, gives healthcare purchasers at the UK's 400 NHS trusts and health authorities access to more than 300,000 product lines, 1,500 contracts and around 3,000 suppliers.
The catalogue covers all areas of medical and non-medical supplies as well as service contracts. Next month, a further 100 contracts, containing 22,000 product lines, will be added.
Pasa has installed the national system, developed by software company Reqio, to help the NHS move towards a unified e-commerce strategy, which it estimates will save more than £300 million a year, at some point in the next few years.
Half of Pasa's £7 billion annual procurement spend, equivalent to almost a quarter of the NHS's total purchases, is to go through the system which went live in April.
It also aims to reduce off-contract buying and enable NHS purchasers to access discount prices as soon as they are negotiated by Pasa.
Previously, Pasa sent more than 3,000 CD catalogues every month to trusts - about seven each a month. Reqio has transferred supplier data from Pasa's corporate Oracle database on to the new system.
Reqio won the five-year, £1.3 million deal last December and has already trained buyers responsible for negotiating new supplier contracts on-site at Pasa.
Eric Jackson, director of e-commerce at Pasa, said: "This is the first major building block in helping the NHS to get to grips with e-procurement, and we're greatly encouraged that it has been completed to budget and on time."