Medical machine spending lacks value in the NHS

30 March 2011

30 March 2011 | Lindsay Clark

The procurement of high-cost equipment is not achieving value for money across all NHS trusts, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).

The spending watchdog’s finding follows an examination of spending on scanning equipment used in the treatment of illnesses, including cancer.  

The research found that despite the use of framework agreements for three quarters of purchases between 2009 and 2010, there was no aggregation of volume on this multi-million pound spending. “Trusts also lack independent procurement advice when purchasing new machines or new types of machines to help them decide the appropriate level of functionality to meet their operational clinical need,” the report said.

The NAO estimated that replacing all machines currently in service would cost the NHS £1 billion over the next 10 years.

Meanwhile, the government’s overhaul of the NHS includes plans to make all trusts responsible for their own procurement from 2014, rather than benefiting from centrally funded programmes. “There is… considerable uncertainty about how decisions on equipment will be informed locally,” the report said.

Commenting on the plans, Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said: "This is a challenge requiring planning by individual trusts, since there is no longer a centrally funded programme. Turning to efficient management of this equipment, trusts across the NHS lack the information and benchmarking data required to secure cost efficient procurement and sustainable maintenance of these key elements in modern diagnosis and treatment.”

The Department of Health said NHS Supply Chain, which provides NHS support services, would use trusts' capital equipment plans to identify opportunities to buy expensive machinery together, placing multiple orders, in the context of the changes to the NHS.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Simon Burns commented: "The clinical leadership of GP consortia will allow closer working with hospital clinicians to design cost effective services.”

The NAO’s recommendations on how the new NHS Commissioning Board, the body which will oversee the new NHS system, would be able to help improve the situation, he added.

The NAO report examined procurement of computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging and linear accelerator scanners. 

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