Leaked blueprint reveals plan to centralise NHS procurement

The way the NHS procures goods and services looks set for another major overhaul that could directly affect many suppliers.

Leaked proposals have suggested that the NHS’s buying power for goods and services might be switched from individual trusts to central teams.

The proposals would see national teams overseeing buying strategies for individual categories worth up to £10 billion, in a centre-led approach, rather than NHS trusts retaining autonomy over how they buy items across IT, estates and services. These national teams will be responsible for implementing the category strategies at local level and focusing on logistics and supply chain issues.

NHSI has stated that the model’s blueprint has not yet been completed, but that it will be shared when finished. Implementation of the plans was meant to begin in April, but a further contract has not been awarded for this and the regulator refused to say why the programme is delayed.

The draft blueprint proposes a major shake-up of NHS procurement, including:

  • Building nationally led category teams to develop future NHS buying strategies;
  • Designing and implement automated processes with procurement teams before ‘industrialising the solution(s) for national roll-out’;
  • Developing a world-class supply chain analytics and insight tool.

The blueprint does not give details of how the model, if implemented, would be enforced across the NHS, but a timeline included in the blueprint states the priorities for the next six months include a ‘long-term leadership and governance structure’.

The leaked document also highlights that roles will become ‘more focused on change management, demand management and business/clinical partnering’, meaning that staff will be asked to focus on contract management and other commercial tasks.

The leaked plan also does not include any mention of including clinical staff in procurement decisions, despite the fact that they are key stakeholders when it comes to the selection of medical devices.

The Health Care Supply Association, which represents the interests of NHS procurement staff, has taken issue with the proposed plans warning that the “change cannot be imposed” and that ‘it needs to be co-delivered’. Instead it transpires that the new model is being run by NHS Improvement with the help of management consultancy Deloitte and a small number of NHS procurement staff.

The leaked plans demonstrate a similar approach to those taken around changes to NHS Supply Chain where procurement has been centralised and according to HSJ “integrated category and market management teams” will be the “driving force for procurement activity across the NHS. They will own and develop a single approach to each spend category to leverage economies of scale and drive market innovations”.

Effectively, the goal is to ensure that procurement staff adhere to centrally-set strategies for procurement.

This issue was first reported by Health Service Journal.

As leading advisors on public affairs and political consultancy to suppliers of medical devices and other products and services to the NHS, the Whitehouse team will be keeping on top of these developments. If you have questions or concerns, then please don’t hesitate to be in touch directly with our Chair, Chris Whitehouse: chris.whitehouse@whitehousecomms.com. Further information about our work in the health and social care policy sector can be found here.