Procurement's key role in healthcare technology

Alyson Scurfield
posted by Alyson Scurfield
9 September 2016

The UK’s population is ageing rapidly. By 2040, nearly one in four people will be aged 65 or over and this represents an enormous challenge for public sector organisations, particularly those providing and procuring frontline services, from local authorities to NHS trusts to housing associations.

Increasingly, technology-enabled care – from wearable alarms to monitoring equipment – is seen as a solution to coping with rising demand and preventing poor health from escalating.

Given the tightening of the public purse, it’s essential that procurement in areas such as telecare and telehealth is strategic. Yet the reality is very different. Purchasing is fragmented and non-compliant, with organisations buying separately, direct from suppliers, with little or no competition.

The end result is a poor deal for commissioners, service providers and suppliers, thanks to a multitude of procurement routes and thousands of low volume, disjointed contracts. A complete overhaul of telecare provision right across the public sector is needed, with procurement teams playing a leading role in re-engineering the system.

Firstly, I’d like to see greater collaboration so that councils, housing associations and other public bodies can pool their buying power to secure better supplier terms. But this isn’t just about volume. I want to see more knowledge collaboration: organisations sharing the market data and economic intelligence they have mined from their own spend analysis and management of technology-enabled care contracts. This will develop what is currently an immature telecare and telehealth market and lead to greater supply chain influence, cost control and broader value delivery.

Secondly, procurement officers must be given the resources and platform to play a deeper role from the outset. This will ensure telecare isn’t simply bolted onto existing care but becomes integral to frontline provision of social care. CPOs can help to shape new models of care by building specifications, driving supplier innovation, sharing commercial insight and challenging poor supplier performance.

Thirdly, this has to be a whole organisation approach. A procurement team’s good work will be undone if managers elsewhere continue with their own buying habits rather than signing up to an integrated, transparent, smarter approach.

Finally, public sector organisations mustn’t underestimate the importance of robust contract management – something often left to operations staff. Technology-enabled care is constantly evolving, and if procurement officers build flexibility into contracts and carefully manage delivery, it’s possible to benefit from the very latest advancements.

☛ Alyson Scurfield is chief executive of the Telecare Services Association. 

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