Collaboration threatened by competing interests

14 August 2019

Collaboration in procurement takes patience, resilience and trust, but it is worth the hard work to achieve the benefits, according to the head of NHS North of England Commercial Procurement Collaborative (NOE CPC). 

Keith Rowley, the organisation's managing director, told SM yesterday that while there are gains to be made in working together, the challenge of successful collaboration should not be underestimated. 

“It takes an immense amount of work, trust, and governance in delivering to make that really work. You have to get two people, if not more in some cases, to have similar goals and actually consistently have those goals over a long period of time," he said.

"That's really hard to sustain without a tremendous amount of work and patience,” Rowley added.

Collaboration helps to drive innovation, stop unnecessary duplication and allows organisations to leverage scale to achieve the consistent deals, he pointed out.

Rowley noted that while the NHS is often regarded as a single entity, it consists of hundreds of trusts and organisations, all with their own financial agendas which makes collaboration difficult.

“If you are the chief executive of one of those little ships, you're only going to play in collaboration if the collaboration is going in the direction you're also going in."

Although NHS procurement can be a time consuming process, it can prevent organisations from duplicating solutions for the same problems, Rowley added. 

There are some areas, such as waste strategies, which are generally procured at a regional level and have many different local approaches. Some regions operate a consolidated total waste agreement which encompasses everything from clinical waste, body parts, needles and syringes, to the disposal of waste paper. Other areas have broken up products and services into different contracts, he explained.

“You can't tackle that at a national level in one hit because it's services-orientated and things need to be delivered in different ways. What you can do is have a view to a national strategy and then operate that and deliver that more locally,” Rowley said. 

“You can take people on different journeys to get to a better outcome whilst also managing a competitive supply market. Because any good procurer should want good suppliers who want to innovate and bring good solutions to their customer base and in a healthy competitive market.”

Rowley also discussed the Workforce Alliance. This was established earlier this month by NOE CPC, several other NHS procurement hubs and the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) to tackle NHS workforce challenges through agency staffing.

“We work with some amazing suppliers in those markets to bring new technology or services but we also work with different suppliers who see it as a profit making entity. They don't always deliver quality services or people to the party which causes all sorts of problems for clinical care,” he commented.

“That's the nature of that market and we're trying to manage this better by coming together with the other NHS hubs and the CCS, so we have better leveraging scale to manage that market.” 

Rowley added that it is isn’t possible to procure everything nationally but collaboration stops procurers “duplicating for the sake of duplicating”. 

He said: “What you want to be doing is procuring the right solutions and then focusing your resources and efforts on putting business in the direction of suppliers or procuring better outcomes for the NHS that deliver better patient care.” 

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