A man with a prosthetic leg © 123RF
A man with a prosthetic leg © 123RF

New purchasing system for medical devices 'will save £60m'

14 April 2016

A new nationwide system for purchasing expensive medical devices and implants could save the health service more than £60m in its first two years, NHS England has claimed.

In a statement the public body said it intends to plough the savings back into specialist care and treatments, benefiting millions of patients as a result.

The deal, involving NHS England and the NHS Business Services Authority, will be operated by NHS Supply Chain. It will cover devices such as implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) for people with abnormal heart rhythms, bone-anchored hearing aids and bespoke prosthetics, among others.

NHS England currently spends around £500m annually reimbursing specialist units for these devices, and the prices hospital trusts pay for the same product can vary wildly throughout the country. By taking advantage of economies of scale, it’s hoped the new system will help even out these inconsistencies.

Dr Jonathan Fielden, director of specialised commissioning at NHS England, said he hoped the reforms will ensure every pound of public money is spent wisely.

“By bearing down on price and quality variation and making the most of our national purchasing power, NHS England will now be able to deliver these same high-cost devices for less, freeing up funding to help meet the increasing demands on specialised services from new and effective treatments,” he said.

It is expected that trusts will migrate over to the new system by the end of 2016.

Meanwhile, new procurement regulations that come into force next Monday are likely to lead to greater private sector participation in the delivery of health services, according to a law firm.

Bevan Brittan said the new regulations, based on EU directives, mean any contract for health services worth more than £589,148 must be put out to public tender via a public advertisement.

There are only narrow exceptions, such where there is only one possible provider who possesses the facilities necessary to supply a service.

The firm said until now there has been no stated requirement that health service contracts had to be publicly tendered, though previous regulations requested transparency and equal treatment. “But the absence of an express and clear threshold led to a real difference in practice as to which contracts were tendered and which were not,” said Bevan Brittan.

The new regulations will bring health procurement into line with other public contracts.

Emily Heard, procurement partner at Bevan Brittan, said it was likely that more contracts will now be put out to tender than before, giving an opportunity for private firms to win more business with the NHS and public health services.

She gave the example of UnitingCare to illustrate the potential problems that could arise from tendering.

UnitingCare, a consortium of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust and Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, was established to provide older people’s healthcare in Cambridgeshire. It collapsed after a lengthy and expensive procurement process.

“The upside is that competition can equate to improvement, and be a means of securing better value for money for public services,” said Heard.

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