NHS foundation trusts to be made more accountable

20 May 2011

20 May 2011 | Angeline Albert

The Department of Health (DH) has been told to tackle wasteful purchasing, caused by a fragmented approach to NHS buying, by strengthening the accountability of foundation trusts.

Published today, the Committee of Public Accounts’ (PAC) report The procurement of consumables byNHS acute and foundation trusts, makes a series of recommendations to the DH to improve purchasing.  

Foundation trusts are independent of the health department’s control, so the PAC report recommended they be made more accountable to their boards in order to bring about improvements. The document said: “It is not clear how trusts will be motivated to deliver collectively the £1.2 billion savings required from procurement under the Quality, Innovation, Productivity and Prevention (QIPP) programme.” The committee recommended the DH spell out how this target will be delivered, measured and who will be accountable for it. It also suggested that the boards of foundation trusts “set aggressive targets for savings from procurement” and require trusts to demonstrate they have delivered optimum savings.

A lack of good quality data was described as a barrier to efficient buying because trusts use different financial systems and product coding which makes it hard to compare prices paid and the product ranges bought by trusts. The committee suggested the DH require NHS purchasers and suppliers to use a standard product bar coding system, which should be implemented by April 2014. This is the date when all trusts are expected to have foundation status.

Currently trusts purchase consumables by either dealing direct with suppliers; through national supplies organisation NHS Supply Chain, via regional collaborative procurement hubs and by working with other trusts in joint purchasing deals for particular supplies. The report described the NHS Supply Chain as “not demonstrating its value”. In around half of cases, the committee said products available through the organisation can be more expensive than through other routes. The committee recommended the DH review the operations of NHS Supply Chain. It also said the DH should work with foundation trusts to ensure regional procurement hubs avoid duplication.

Alyson Brett, chief executive of NHS Commercial Solutions (a collaborative hub covering Surrey, Sussex and Kent) told SM the regional purchasing approach gives “aggregation, significant volume and a local connection”. She added: “It makes sense for us to work with all the trusts to avoid unnecessary duplication. When faced with a huge financial challenge, why wouldn’t you collaborate on purchasing more?”

The PAC recommendations were sparked by the National Audit Office’s February report on procurement waste.

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