16 May 2011| Angeline Albert
NHS procurement guidelines have been published to raise
awareness and prevent violations of labour rights in the supply chain.
The British Medical Association (BMA), in partnership
with the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) and the Departmentof Health (DH),
today launched Ethical Procurement for Health.
This practical online guide is intended to help UK health organisations improve
working conditions in which goods for the NHS are produced.
According to the ETI and BMA, labour rights violations in
the NHS supply chain include workers being paid below the minimum wage, child
labour, excessive working hours and poor health and safety conditions.
Dr Mahmood Bhutta, adviser to the BMA’s Fair Medical and
Ethical Trade group, described in a blog posted on the ETI website his visit to Sialkot in northern Pakistan where apparently 100,000
surgical instruments are produced every year with some bound for the NHS.
He said: “The conditions were shocking. In my mind I had
associated surgical instruments with the clean sterile environment of the
operating theatre. But here they were being ground and filed by 10-year-old
children working full-time in small open garages on the street. The noise was
deafening, the heat and dust unbearable, the risk of serious injury palpable.”
The NHS spends in excess of £30 billion a year on the
procurement of goods and services.
The guidelines recommend that the business case for ethical
procurement be agreed and signed off by senior management. It also recommends
that a champion within senior management, ideally at board level, should be
identified as well as another individual who will have lead responsibility for
implementing ethical procurement. This second person should be experienced in
procurement, of a sufficient level of seniority to influence decision-makers
and be able to contribute enough time to the role.
A previous DH consultation with stakeholders identified
limited resources and competing pressures at the procurer level to comply with
ethical procurement, a perception that ethical trading criteria may contravene
EU procurement rules and no system for collectively storing ethical trading information
Dr Vivienne Nathanson, director of professional activities
at the BMA, said: “The NHS is experiencing a very challenging economic
environment, but this cannot be used as an excuse to continue to exploit