PLC Public Sector reports:
The Department of Health (DoH) has published new guidance aimed at improving procurement across the NHS, while at the same time admitting that more needs to be done in this area. The DoH has also published a call for evidence for ideas for further improvements and committed itself to publishing a new procurement strategy later in 2012.
The guidance, NHS procurement: Raising our game, focuses on how the NHS can better utilise its spending power, committing to better information sharing so that all organisations can take advantage of the best deals and improved collaborative procurement. The DoH will contribute to this process by:
- Requiring NHS Trusts to publish all tender and contract information for contracts over £10,000.
- Creating a dashboard of procurement indicators to help make benchmarking easier.
- Working with Monitor to strengthen NHS Trust accountability for procurement. One possibility for this could be for Monitor to be given enforcement powers under any regulations made under section 75 of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 (HSCA 2012) requiring the NHS Commissioning Board and Clinical Commissioning Groups to ensure adherence to good procurement practice.
- Developing an accreditation system to allow NHS organisations to assess their procurement capability.
However, Sir David Nicholson, NHS Chief Executive, makes it clear that this is just a start to the process of overhauling and improving NHS procurement, and the new guidance has been accompanied by a call for evidence and ideas on how the above goals can be met and anything else that could be done to improve public procurement in the NHS. The call for evidence seeks views on:
- What can be learnt from elsewhere.
- What actions can be taken at both national and local level.
- What actions could be taken by third party NHS Partners in the public, private and third sectors to assist.
It’s always good to see that attention is being paid to how procurement processes can be improved (I am sure that most people that have had the pleasure of being involved in a public procurement process (in any sector) would probably comment that there is always a certain amount of room for improvement). Therefore, this is an exercise that should be applauded and encouraged, but (there is always a but…), two things do come to mind during an initial read through of these documents:
- It is sometimes difficult to see past declarations that procurement operations will be “world class” and that “levers for change” will be, well, levered, without becoming disengaged from the process due to a general a dislike of political/management speak.
- More importantly, in a year when the EU public procurement regime is in the process of undergoing substantial reform (reform that will admittedly not come into force for a considerable period of time) and the HSCA 2012 is fundamentally reforming the whole of the NHS (in particular how it procures goods and services), is this the right time to undertake this exercise?
A key issue that the NHS will need to address whenever its procurement strategy is considered or finalised is the obvious clash of the desire to take advantage of joint spending power, while at the same time delivering the greater personalisation of services that plays a key role in the HSCA 2012 and the government’s reforms of the NHS and social care generally. In theory this may be possible to do by successfully distinguishing procurement for service delivery from procurement for administration/back office goods and services. However, this is a challenge that truly will require a “world class” procurement function!