Dan Poulter said often NHS buyers 'haven't got a clue if they are overpaying' © PA Images
Dan Poulter said often NHS buyers 'haven't got a clue if they are overpaying' © PA Images

Suppliers 'ripping off' UK hospitals

20 February 2017

Former UK health minister Dan Poulter has launched a blistering attack on NHS procurement.

Poulter said the National Health Service (NHS) was being ‘ripped off’ and could save £2bn a year if buyers were more diligent when cutting deals with suppliers.

In a column for the Mail on Sunday Poulter said while acting as health minister under the Coalition Government, his team tried getting local groups of hospitals to work together to drive better deals with suppliers. But he never achieved his aim of forcing suppliers to publicly state everything they sold to the NHS.

“It is vitally important that the NHS drives a hard bargain,” he said.

“Unfortunately, the sad fact is, too often NHS buyers haven’t got a clue if they are overpaying, because firms are doing all they can to keep their prices secret.

“In short, our hospitals are getting ripped off left, right and centre. And with £18 in every £100 you pay in tax being spent on the the NHS, that means you’re getting ripped off.”

Meanwhile, NHS Improvement has released accounts that show NHS trusts in England have racked up a deficit of nearly £900m in the first nine months of this financial year, despite the health service being given extra money to help it get on top of its finances after a record overspend in 2015-16 of £2.45bn.

Last month, SM reported that a new pricing indexing tool developed by NHS Improvement, which aims to make spending across trusts more visible, revealed the opportunity to save £120m across the NHS by comparing prices on similar goods by trusts on a national level.

The Purchase Price Index and Benchmark collates and analyses spending data from 200 trusts buying through NHS Supply Chain and 140 trusts also send additional purchase order data covering independent procurement.

In the US a study has found 25% of the 403 hospital staff surveyed had seen or heard of expired products being used on a patient, and 18% had seen or heard of a patient being harmed due to lack of necessary supplies.

The research, by Cardinal Health, showed physicians and nurses spent an average of nearly 20% of their working week on supply chain and inventory management tasks – time they would prefer to spend serving patients, performing research, gaining education or training new staff.

Chief medical officer at Cardinal Health, Shaden Marzouk, said poor supply chain management had affected patient safety. “Our survey found that many hospitals are experiencing patient safety issues that could be prevented through supply chain improvements.”

According to the study, 30% of respondents hadn’t implemented a new inventory management system in at least six years and another 25% didn’t know if it had ever been done. Additionally 78% manually counted inventory in some parts of their supply chain.

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