NHS reform 'goes against' centralised procurement

15 June 2011

15 June 2011 | Angeline Albert

Devolving responsibility for buying in the NHS under new reforms could make it difficult to implement MPs' recommendations to improve purchasing from the centre.

Beth Loudon, national QIPP (Quality, Innovation, Productivity and Prevention) procurement workstream programme lead at the Department of Health (DH), has questioned if greater central control and accountability of NHS purchasing could be achieved when some responsibility for procurement decisions is to be localised.

The Committee of Public Accounts (PAC) last month said it was not clear how the £1.2 billion procurement savings outlined by the DH would be achieved when it cannot control how foundation trusts buy.

“There is an appetite for centralised procurement but the political reforms in the NHS are going the other way,” Loudon told delegates at the Public Procurement Show in London yesterday. “The coalition government’s move towards more decentralised NHS procurement by handing commissioning to GPs locally and its decision to make all trusts foundation trusts goes against PAC recommendations for more central control and accountability of NHS procurement.”

However, she was confident other suggestions could be acted on centrally. Loudon said it could work with NHS Supply Chain to review its competitiveness and attractiveness to trusts. Bar coding has also been introduced on products, to allow trusts to compare how much they pay for similar items.

Loudon said it was “not surprising” the report had concluded “we don’t know what we are spending our money on” because procurement capability at trusts varies.

She added the report had drawn attention to the issue among NHS leaders. “One positive thing that has come out of the findings is that the resulting media attention and union interest has caught the attention of the chief executives of the trusts. We have set up a chief executive forum to advise them on how they can procure more effectively.”

The QIPP (Quality, Innovation, Productivityand Prevention) programme was established 18 months ago and provides guidance and support to trusts to purchase more efficiently. However, it has no mandate to make trusts comply with suggestions it makes.

The DH plans will respond to the PAC recommendations on 7 July.

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