Massive variation in prices paid for medical goods

8 March 2011
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8 March 2011 | Lindsay Clark

The NHS pays up to three times the price for the same medical items, data released by the Department of Health (DH) shows.

As part of a procurement improvement programme, the DH has identified the lowest and highest prices paid for a random selection of clinical goods. For example, the same piece of laboratory technology from Leica Microsystems could cost anywhere between £310 and £1,200. Meanwhile, a particular pacemaker from Medtronic could be £1,000 or £2,000.

The National QIPP Procurement Workstream, an NHS group designed to improve buying practices, researched the data.

In the letter to trust chief executives, Jim Easton, Department of Health national director for improvement and efficiency, pointed out that price variation could occur for a number of good reasons. He said: “A variety of factors influence the prices paid by trusts, including lower volumes, historical prices based on older contracts or additional services such as research, development or bundled contracts which include additional services such as training. While some trusts believe that they are getting the best price, there is evidence to show that this is not necessarily the case.”

He invited the Foundation Trust Network (FTN), an organisation hosted by health service management body the NHS Confederation to take part in pilot with the aim of achieving better market information. “The purpose of this project is to start building a culture of transparency within the NHS that believes there is more to gain from sharing the prices that we pay than there is at risk,” wrote Easton. He also acknowledges that the NHS faces “an increasingly fragmented procurement landscape” that makes it very difficult to compare prices.

The scheme, to be run by the National QIPP Procurement Workstream, will offer participating trusts the opportunity to compare the prices they pay for medical goods.

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