Heroes of Procurement

We Helped Furloughed Procurement Staff Become NHS Heroes

CIPS 30 June 2020

How University College London Hospital turned to furloughed experts to help manage PPE donations

As one of the UK capital’s busiest hospital trusts, University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH) has experienced an unmeasurably stressful 2020 so far. But aside from leading the fight against coronavirus, it also found itself with a perplexing problem: how to manage the overwhelming number of donations, from food to personal protective equipment (PPE), it had been provided with by generous benefactors, alongside central government.

The situation had become so difficult to manage that the Trust’s procurement team turned to an inspired source of expertise, that of furloughed procurement professionals who could ensure essential equipment met the right standards and could be distributed efficiently to the front line.


  1. Recruiting Furloughed Staff
  2. Sorting Stock and Supplies
  3. Supporting Front-Line Workers
  4. Learning During a Crisis
people standing under flower rainbow

Image: © UCLH

After a collaborative call to action with CIPS, the UCLH procurement team recruited eight volunteers from varied backgrounds, who put in place efficient processes to tackle key challenges.

Daniel Tagg, deputy director of procurement, led the initiative and personally called all the volunteers to explain the situation and what would be expected, which all of the volunteers were extremely grateful for, and shared real excitement and enthusiasm to start helping UCLH.

Pia Larsen, director of procurement and supply chain, says the team has proved vital to helping the hospital operate effectively through the pandemic.

 Recruiting Furloughed Staff

UCLH recruited the procurement professionals by working with CIPS to find suitable volunteers through a LinkedIn post. After a review of the responses, with interest coming from as far as Egypt, the volunteer procurement team quickly assimilated into the UCLH team, taking part in morning meetings and helping with any extra tasks to take pressure off staff members, says Daniel Tagg, deputy director of procurement at UCLH.

Larsen says one of the reasons for recruiting furloughed procurement staff as volunteers was to help provide a way for people in the industry to use their specific skills and expertise.

Samir Boukhalfa, a furloughed food and beverage buyer at HMSHost International UK & France, who is currently studying for his MCIPS, responded to CIPS’ appeal and is now part of the UCLH team. He says: “It has been a life changing experience. The team has been so welcoming and supportive. They work so hard and yet still take the time to come and check on us, offering advice, guidance and support.

“Helping the NHS in my humble capacity has been an eye-opener and a lesson in humility. With the situation we find ourselves in, due to Covid-19, the wellbeing of the 9,000 staff is something we are working hard to maintain.”

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 Sorting Stock and Supplies

Volunteers were tasked with the challenge of checking and recording all PPE donations as well as supplies from centralised government distributions in line with the assurance process supported by the Health and Safety Executive. These include goggles, masks, visors, coveralls, gowns, gloves and food products. The procurement team used traditional organisational processes to record where stock came from, what type of PPE it was, its quantity, and whether it was clinically suitable to be used in a hospital setting. They used spreadsheets and completed daily stock counts to give an up-to-date idea of stock levels to ensure the supply could support the demand of NHS workers.

As some donations were delivered to the loading bay and some were dropped off in person to offices, physically organising the supplies and labelling them had to take place in an unorthodox fashion. A large meeting room was cleared to store all the donations and distribute them accordingly. 

Larsen says: “This was highly unusual because supplies came in irregular packaging, unlabelled, mostly uncounted and in different languages. Some of that was also out of date, so we had to check it was suitable for clinical use and compliant with medical standards.”

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sorting boxes in warehouse

 Supporting Front-Line Worker

More than 250,000 items have been donated to the UCLH to support the NHS workers care for coronavirus patients and stay protected in the hospital’s high-risk medical environment. Many charities, institutions and companies have helped by donating PPE, including Goldman Sachs, the Association of British Chinese Professors, the charity London True Life church, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, pharmaceuticals firm Fosun International, and the Huawei London Research Centre.

Larsen says one of the other key tasks volunteers have undertaken is moving food and drink donations to staff within the hospital: “Volunteers have been absolutely instrumental in delivering food and drink to the clinical teams who are working on the front lines and that is hugely impactful for the clinical teams, in order to have access to refreshments and donated goodies during the crisis”.

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 Learning During a Crisis

Many of the volunteers have come from different sectors, such as food and beverage, and it has enabled them to learn about how the NHS supply chain and medical sector works, and the sort of regulations involved.

Tagg says: “It's been like a breath of fresh air as they’ve come from different backgrounds but really wanted to learn and achieve, and take something back [after the pandemic] to say 'we did this when we were furloughed, and it was really great working for a different sector on a different team’.”

Volunteers came from various procurement and supply chain roles, in companies including GSK, Prezzo and procurement solutions company Novo-K.

Tagg adds: “I've said to the volunteers, if they really want to know more about what we do in the NHS, we give them the time to sit down and go through items of interest with them. They've been asking lots of questions to find out further detail around how we work and what we do.”

One of the procurement team volunteers, Kiran Mattu, a procurement business partner at Novo-K Procurement Solutions, says: “I was lucky to be given the opportunity to volunteer within the procurement department at UCLH. The best part of it is being able to support departments through helping with supplier donations and learning and developing my NHS procurement knowledge. The procurement team at UCLH are very inspiring and work well together to deliver outstanding service to the trust.” 

There have also been staff redeployed from elsewhere in the NHS to help the procurement team. For instance, Ben Young, who was redeployed from his post as a senior performance and monitoring analyst at North East London CSU. He says: “As well gladly helping distribute the various donations the Trust has received, I’ve found it helpful in understanding the various priorities of our providers have faced in ensuring that it has a reliable and consistent source of PPE, which is up to specification.”

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