NHS procurement policies need a ‘radical overhaul’

9 November 2012

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9 November 2012 | Anna Reynolds

NHS procurement policies need a radical overhaul, criticised in a report as “unhelpful, bordering on obstructive”.

A study Partnerships for Healthy Outcomes - compiled by a panel of senior executives from the NHS, private, public and voluntary sectors - addressed the need for cross-sector partnerships to achieve shared goals and create more transparent procurement processes.

Sir William Wells, former chairman of the NHS Appointments Commission who led the panel, said in the report: “The current procurement processes are unhelpful, bordering on obstructive, in that they are over-prescriptive, too lengthy, complicated, expensive, often adversarial and negative.”

The report refers to results from a national survey of 169 NHS professionals, where more than half said that they expected the number of external contracts to increase over the next 12 months. Almost a quarter (24 per cent) said they conduct all their contracting through ‘transactional’ relationships with suppliers, with a continued focus on low-price bids.

The report highlighted the importance of partnerships between sectors to share procurement skills and expertise, save money and improve patient care in the NHS.

Simon Scrivens, managing director of service provider Sodexo Healthcare, which sponsored the report, told SM: “The process of procuring services from public, private and third sector organisations can take the NHS up to 18 months and lots of contracts get cancelled. Also the NHS tends to devolve responsibility for procurement to functions who see the beauty in the process rather than the outcome, which means the system doesn’t deliver the benefits it should.”

The panel advised where a number of services need to be procured, a partnership should be formed to cover all of the procurement. In addition, NHS buyers should engage in ‘competitive dialogue’ with sectors early on to explore available options in the market and find the best solutions.

The report recommended the NHS ensures the capability of its procurement departments and where necessary bring in specialist lawyers and strategic advisors to work alongside the team in complex projects. The private sector must also adapt its ways of working to increase interaction with the NHS.

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