Health trusts are collaborating to aggregate spend and standardise services ©Peter Byrne/PA Images
Health trusts are collaborating to aggregate spend and standardise services ©Peter Byrne/PA Images

Manchester to join procurement for 14 health trusts

19 October 2018

Health trusts across the Greater Manchester area are working towards creating a single, unified procurement function.

As part of the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care (GMHSC) Partnership, 13 acute hospital trusts and one ambulance trust are working on a number of collaborative projects that are aggregating spend and standardising services.

As well as creating upfront savings, the projects are laying the foundations for the creation of a single procurement service across the region.

Neil Hind, procurement lead at GMHSC Partnership, said: “The end game is a single unified function, and the work we’re doing now is helping us to get to that goal.

“But there’s a lot of good work we can do on the way to get savings out of the system, to improve the way that we are working now. There’s a lot we can do now around aggregating spend and standardising our services.”

The projects overseen by Hind range from instituting common systems and processes in trusts to taking “a more intelligent” approach to getting value from suppliers. GMHSC Partnership is also considering creating a single logistics hub for hospitals in the region – which could reduce 200,000 vehicle delivery movements a year across the city – and it is working to roll out a national standardised barcoding system, among other projects.

Hind is also working to put in place what he calls “tactical efficiencies” – quick wins from cooperation – through aggregating spend and standardising the goods and products being used. “We’ve got a number of work streams which are up and running in that space to try and bring efficiencies from the spend that we’ve got now,” he said.

“We know in Greater Manchester – and it’s the same across the country – that trusts are not paying the same amount for exactly the same products. There may be various reasons for that, it might be that the volumes are higher in one trust or they just went out to the market at the right time. So one part of the work we’re doing is to try to get all organisations on the lowest price.”

As far as collaboration goes, this is relatively easy as medical practitioners are not being asked to switch products. But the GMHSC Partnership is now looking to go further and create common specifications, which would end up requiring some hospitals to make changes. This will takes more effort to put in place.

“It might be you’ve got to retrain people. So there’s a lot of engagement we do with the end users, be that surgeons or nursing staff or other parts of the system, to get them involved in the process and involved in any evaluation that goes on so they are comfortable and are bought into what it is that’s been bought,” said Hind.

GMHSC Partnership was created as part of devolution and has complete control Greater Manchester’s health and social care budget. The partnership, which is not just procurement focused, is working on a number of projects including bringing together health and social care spend. Manchester was picked out in a recent PAC report for succeeding to bring health and social care together while many authorities struggle.

Procurement is another area where GMHSC Partnership performs well. In the most recent NHS Improvement league table, the top three trusts were in Greater Manchester and heavily involved in the partnership’s work.

Devolution has been an advantage for the partnership, Hind said, as it has put in place governance structures that have helped make change. “In other areas of the country where you have a smaller number of trusts working together, I think it’s often a lot harder because it’s more on a voluntary basis,” he said.

The projects have also had plenty of top-down support through a business case that outlined £15m of potential savings a year. Softer benefits also encouraged support, including standardisation of service, better patient care and the reduction of inventory.

Getting buy in from other stakeholders required more engagement, which is where the GMHSC Partnership’s collaboration projects come into play. “It’s proving the concept, it’s showing that trusts can actually work with each other and there are benefits in doing that.

“It’s about engagement, it’s about making sure [trusts] are part of the process. They’ve got these skills and expertise and the category experience, so it’s about using their skills but getting them to actually scale up those activities.” Hind is also looking at getting trusts with particular expertise in certain categories to buy in behalf of other trusts.

This early cooperation is important groundwork for a joint procurement service. “Culture thing is quite an interesting thing, organisations have different systems, different ways of doing things,” said Hind.

“That’s why it’s quite important to do this work early, to try and standardise on the systems and processes so everyone is starting to work on the same platforms in the same way. That will help when we do start to look at shared services and merging teams, the culture issue shouldn’t be so much of an issue.”

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