COMMERCIAL: Nine South West trusts have embarked on an initiative to bring down the cost of hiring locum doctors, which it hopes will be a “blueprint” for the health service across the country.

The trusts, working under the name South West Consortium, are carrying out a collaborative tender process to find a single supplier of locum doctors.

The acute providers, led by Plymouth Hospitals Trust, intend to use their collective purchasing power in an effort to “manage” the local market in locum agencies and bring costs under control.

HSJ understands that the procurement will aim to find an organisation to supply the group with locum doctors and dentists from a pool of temporary workers, or through the use and management of approved subcontractors.

The contract, thought to be the first of its kind, is to run for two years with the option of an extension of a further year, according to the official leading the initiative.

The financial value of the procurement is being kept under wraps until the last trust involved in the process approves the winning bid later this month.

Andrew McMinn, Plymouth Hospitals Trust’s chief procurement officer and project lead, said: “Within the NHS you’ve literally got trusts competing with each other to get locums. On the supply side, you’re seeing significant rates hikes for locums and nursing as well.”

He added: “My trust saw the threat of this continuing spend rise and an ever fragmenting market in suppliers – it’s virtually impossible to influence a supplier.

“If we try to put their rates down, they would just sell at those rates to somebody else.

“In recognising that we need to manage the market and that the only way to do so was with the NHS collectively getting together, I championed a regional approach.”

The trusts are currently examining the bids from six organisations, according to documents presented to the board of South Devon Healthcare Trust, one of the partners in the scheme.

The following providers have also confirmed their involvement to HSJ:

  • Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust;
  • Salisbury Foundation Trust;
  • Northern Devon Healthcare Trust;
  • Yeovil District Hospital Foundation Trust; and
  • Taunton and Somerset Foundation Trust.

A spokeswoman for Royal Devon and Exeter Foundation Trust refused to comment on whether it was one of the nine trusts involved.

The trusts taking part in the scheme are drawn from across Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Salisbury, Mr McMinn said.

While he was not prepared to specify the amount he expects the trusts to save on locum fees, he said: “It’s fair to say the process will deliver commercial efficiencies.”

If the “master vendor agency” plan is successful, the scheme will be extended to cover the recruitment of agency nurses.

Mr McMinn said: “We think it’s a blueprint for the future; the big test will be if it delivers successes for the supply market and our patients and the trusts. We’re talking locums at the moment, but I think we will be doing nursing as well.

“I think people are looking at us to see what is going to come out. We have worked with the Crown Commercial Service on this project so that they can take learning from it to support other regions to have a similar approach.”