Procurement in the NHS: how our future will have to be different
The potential impact on patients and services during times of financial challenge is all too real, and the pandemic has highlighted how critical the procurement function is in securing the right products at times of real need. In the move to greater collaboration, ensuring the right products are available can help achieve collective targets and release time for patient care.
It is now nine months since I took on the role of chief executive officer at NHS Supply Chain. Much of my time has been spent with NHS partners, the people in the NHS who rely on us to help them achieve success in some of the most challenging times in our recent history. It has been a learning curve, but I’m excited to see how valuable procurement will be in building the future, and how it will help meet the priorities of CEOs, non-executive directors, clinicians, managers and in fact all those involved in delivery of health and social care.
The changing procurement environment
Procurement and supply chain has always been a dynamic environment. The decisions we make at one time are always superseded by something new and better along the way. It used to be that the profession worked on the basis of achieving quality, cost and time as success. The challenge of the pandemic, global shipping disruption, volatile commodity pricing and a fundamental need to ensure we are always doing the right thing by our people and our planet has not only made these three factors more complex, but added some new ones. We, and professionals within the health and care sector, feel the impact of these changes every day.
NHS board members and leadership teams will be all too aware of the potential impact on patients and services during times of unprecedented financial challenge
However successful we have been in the past, our future will have to be different to succeed in a more complex world and support a more agile health and care system. It is no longer a case of seeing procurement as simply an arm of the finance department that ensures products reach the shelves. NHS board members and leadership teams will be all too aware of the potential impact on patients and services during times of unprecedented financial challenge. Leveraging economies of scale and delivering savings remains a core principle of procurement, however we now have the opportunity to evolve and realise benefits for the NHS and the wider population that go far beyond delivery of savings.
Releasing time for patient care
From a clinical perspective, we recognise the scale of the challenge, particularly in relation to elective recovery and ongoing workforce pressures. A significant amount of time and energy is spent by clinical staff ordering, stock taking and searching for products on site. This is time which can be released if procurement services are tailored to individual requirements, and inventory management systems maximise economies of scale, reducing manual processes and therefore freeing up time to spend on patient care.
Achieving net zero
The health and care sector is committed to achieving the targets the NHS has set for net zero by 2045. The NHS is already achieving some real successes, supported by procurement professionals and national partners. For example, working to reduce single-use plastics a number of alternatives are being trialled, such as board-based containers and alternatives to plastic cutlery. There is also a range of medical devices being trialled that can be remanufactured rather than disposed of, reducing cost, CO2 emissions and environmental waste. This includes diagnostic catheters and a range of surgical and orthopaedic instruments.
As NHS organisations are reconfigured through ICS structures, this enables greater focus on population health and also means services and care pathways can be redesigned to best meet the needs of end users. Procurement is now an enabling function that provides the systems through which collective groups of NHS organisations can choose to purchase together, delivering quality, value and consistency across the board. The inclusion of a 10 per cent social value weighting in tenders will unlock more potential benefits for the broader population.
In a post-pandemic world we have seen how critical the procurement function is in securing the right products at times of real need
The NHS landscape is changing. In a post-pandemic world we have seen how critical the procurement function is in securing the right products at times of real need. There are real opportunities to achieve some of the collective targets around working together at ICS level, understanding elective recovery targets and working with procurement to ensure the right products are available.
Financial targets and expected outcomes have never been greater. Ultimately, good procurement with the right partners has the potential to deliver significant savings without compromising quality or safety.
Andrew New is chief executive officer at NHS Supply Chain. You can follow NHS Supply Chain on Twitter @nhssupplychain