04 August 2005 | Rebecca Ellinor
More than 50 NHS organisations last month joined forces to create the largest online purchasing system in the health service.
The NHS Trading Network will enable members to trade electronically with their suppliers through a single system, which has been outsourced to e-commerce provider UKprocure.
The 53 network members hope that by outsourcing their spend, the whole procurement process - from the initial request to invoicing - will make "substantial" but currently unspecified savings which will be ploughed back into frontline services.
Mario Varela, head of procurement and supplies at Barts and the London NHS Trust, a network member, said it hoped to save £15.4 million over five years. The UK-wide network could process up to £1 billion of purchasing a year.
Varela said it wasn't confined to the NHS. "We spend just as much money on non-medical products and are committed to establishing a procurement platform available to other public-sector bodies."
He said procurement directors at the various trusts would now be targeting their suppliers to encourage them to use the system.
"We will target suppliers, saying we have a policy strategy endorsed by boards and it is how we intend to trade. While you don't have to come on board immediately, you need to soon if we are to keep trading with you."
He said UKprocure was talking to local authorities, universities and other NHS bodies that are interested in joining the network. More than 1,000 small suppliers of medical devices have formed a group to get a better deal from the NHS. Medilink UK was launched in Edinburgh in July.