New NHS spend tool reveals ‘shocking inconsistencies’ in prices paid by trusts for common items

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
23 July 2014

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23 July 2014 | Will Green

A new NHS web tool has been produced that for the first time gives a trust by trust breakdown of spending on common items across England.

The NHS Procurement Atlas of Variation shows prices paid for 100 items, including surgical gloves, syringes and wipes, and it is estimated around 10.5 per cent of the total amount spent on them could be saved if trusts switched to lower prices.

The atlas reveals “shocking inconsistencies”, with Burton Hospitals Foundation Trust paying £32.78 for 100 toilet rolls, the lowest figure, compared to £66.72 at the highest paying organisation, City Hospitals Sunderland Foundation Trust. The East Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Trust paid £3.95 for 100 needles, compared to £31.68 at Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, while Moorfields Eye Hospital spent £1.84 on 500 sheets of A4 paper yet 2Gether Foundation Trust paid £4.34.

The Department of Health (DH) said £14 billion was spent annually on hospital goods and services, and trusts could save up to around £600,000 of their total spend by paying lower prices on the 100 items.

By the end of the year the list will expand to 500 product lines, potentially saving around £150 million in total, said the DH.

Health minister Dr Dan Poulter said: “The NHS budget has been increased but the reality of an ageing population, rising patient demand and more expensive treatments means our NHS needs to spend money wisely in order to direct every penny into frontline patient care.

“We are delivering on our promise to improve the way our NHS buys goods, equipment and services to make sure taxpayers’ money is spent efficiently and more money is available to look after patients. Our new league tables will make the NHS a more open and better place in which to do business, for small and medium sized businesses. Improving procurement practices is about making sure that money is going where it needs to, on patients and not down the drain.”

Simon Walsh, chairman of the Health Care Supply Association, said they did not receive advance notification of the publication of the atlas and he was disappointed on behalf of procurement staff with the negative headlines it had produced.

“[The atlas] identifies the need for NHS Supply Chain to improve pricing and better manage category choice, along with the challenge to trusts to support a more managed approach to core common lines,” he said.

“Sadly, the above will be lost in the discussion, as an approach has been taken that gains short-term headlines but not long-term gain.

“I am immensely disappointed on behalf of all NHS Procurement staff, especially those who will read headlines suggesting they will be 'shamed' into action.”

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