The procurement boss at a UK care home provider has described the challenges it faced in the scramble for personal protective equipment (PPE) at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak.
Michael Bennett, head of procurement at The Orders of St John Care Trust (OSJCT), said the organisation faced a “PPE triple-edged sword” comprising government guidance, a flood of offers to supply PPE, and the fact PPE was “rarer than unicorns”.
Speaking at eWorld Procurement & Supply, Bennett said he joined OSJCT – the second largest not-for-profit care home provider in the UK with 66 care homes and 14 accommodation schemes – in January 2020.
He spent a couple of months developing a procurement strategy. “That was great until Covid-19 and that strategy had to go on hold,” he said.
“The sector was in the news for all the wrong reasons,” he added, referring to outbreaks in care homes.
Bennett said PPE guidance meant the organisation needed a “six-figure sum of PPE” on a daily basis.
“The reality of what they [government] was asking us to do and the reality of the marketplace were two different things,” he said.
Bennett said they were getting “dozens” of offers for PPE each hour, but with the same emails going to hundreds of people in the organisation. “Many hundreds of emails offering PPE from people we have never heard of.”
OSJCT mobilised a major incident support team, which included procurement, and it was decided to expand the buying team.
“We were absolutely dependent on those suppliers who had always worked with us,” said Bennett. “The value of SRM became very apparent.”
But he added: “Existing suppliers couldn’t get enough [PPE]. We had to turn to that vast array of emails.”
Bennett explained how they set “ground rules” to filter the emails. These included no advance payments to suppliers they did not know or who did not have a reference, and certification of products was not enough. “We had to see and test the product,” he said.
The supplier also had to be prepared to import the PPE at their own risk. “We saw this as a major divider,” he said.
Each deal was a spot purchase, delivered and fixed price only. “Long-term engagements were not practical or sensible.”
“We said we would pay on sight for the first order and seven days later for following orders,” said Bennett.
The team also bypassed due diligence procedures for new suppliers. “We promised we would make instant procurement decisions.”
The process involved calling suppliers and asking a short series of questions around what product they had, when would they get it and how much it would cost. “If it was of interest we made an offer,” said Bennett.
Bennett said the process was “short and sweet”. “This goes against any of the procurement processes you would expect but it was needs must.”
Team members were working seven days a week with cleaning and maintenance staff making deliveries.
Bennett said some homes “virtually ran out” but “we never ran out of PPE”. “We didn’t get scammed either – quite an achievement – and we have found some suppliers we will definitely go forward with.”
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