'NHS procurement is a mess needing central leadership'

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
20 March 2014

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20 March 2014 | Will Green

The head buyer at Barts Health NHS Trust has said procurement in the NHS is a “mess” and needs to be led from the centre.

John Watts, interim director of procurement and ecommerce at the trust, told a conference change was “desperately needed” but it had be driven from the centre because individual trusts did not collaborate enough.

“At the moment the centre has no teeth,” he said. “In the private sector that would be absolute madness. There is no-one at the centre driving change. I think it has to be centre-led without a doubt but it has to be locally delivered.

“There is no sharing of data or best practice and there’s no best use of resources or skills.”

Watts said Barts was “probably the largest acute trust in the UK”, though when he joined 15 months ago it had an annual deficit of £100 million. He said they had a target to get this down to £50 million this year but they were on course for £39 million. “It’s a massive agenda,” he said.

Speaking at the Government Opportunities NHS Procurement Conference in Birmingham, he also said they had to cut costs by £250 million over the next three years and had saved millions through a combination of strategies including standardisation and reducing the number of suppliers.

“If you don’t change you get what you always got,” said Watts. “You have to do something the market will look at and say, ‘Hey, these guys mean business’.

“You won’t get the best price if you’re not prepared to change. It’s about competition, it’s about commitment and willingness to change.”

Watts said buyers did not make themselves available enough to suppliers.

“I hear too often how difficult it is to get into the NHS, or even talk to a procurement person, God forbid,” he said. “What are we here in procurement to do if not to listen to suppliers and hear what they’ve got to say?

“SMEs, I feel sorry for you. Getting into the NHS as an SME is very difficult.”

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