NHS SBS is close to unifying procurement, invoicing and inventory management under one system ©PA Images
NHS SBS is close to unifying procurement, invoicing and inventory management under one system ©PA Images

P2P ‘nearest thing to silver bullet’ for NHS procurement

A robust purchase to pay (P2P) system is “as near to a silver bullet” for procurement as is possible, the former head of procurement at NHS Shared Business Services (NHS SBS) has said.

The organisation is “very close” to creating a P2P system that brings together procurement, invoicing and inventory management, said Peter Akid, who recently retired as NHS SBS director of procurement.

He added the use of robotics and AI in an end-to-end solution that did not need human intervention would create a “step change in benefits and culture” for NHS SBS.

Speaking to SM, Akid said: “Being able to put together a robust purchase to pay, source to settle solution, is as near to the silver bullet as you’re going to get. SBS is very close to that.

“If you get all of that right then all of the aggravation that [NHS] trusts have around notifications, price differences and invoicing starts to go away.”

Akid, who started his career as a quantity surveyor for the private sector, moved to the NHS in 2005 as chief executive of the North West Collaborative Hub, part of the Department of Health’s Supply Chain Excellence Programme.

Coming from a construction background – where processes and roles were clearly defined – Akid said he struggled with how ill-defined the role of procurement was back then.

“In the early days it felt like you’d do a contract and almost throw it over the wall to the users and hoped that they used it,” he said.

Today there is a wider understanding of what procurement does, which Akid attributes in part to the Carter procurement reforms.

The quality of procurement has also improved for a number of other reasons, including better training and accreditation and more appropriate salaries, he added. Work around stakeholder engagement means there is now much more understanding of the value procurement can bring beyond cost savings.

While this has been positive for strategic sourcing, emphasis still needs to be put on the buying process and getting end-users to use the contracts NSH SBS delivers. Unless the buying side of the P2P system working properly you will never benefit from the strategic sourcing side, he said: “You’re just letting those benefits drift away.”

He added: “I’ve often said if NHS just uses all of the contracts it already has it would save an awful lot of money.”

During his time at NHS SBS, Akid has been working to introduce an “Amazon-like” P2P system, called Edge for Health, that will have a number of benefits.

Locking buyers into a single e-procurement system will increase purchase order cover, improve compliance and clean up spend data, which in turn will inform the next round of procurement and help get better prices.

Continuing to foster a culture of collaboration will also continue to be vital for NHS SBS.

Akid said it can still be a challenge bringing together organisations within the NHS that consider themselves in competition, either at an organisational or individual level. “It just goes against the natural instinct of some organisations, but we’re making progress,” he said.

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