• NHS Improvement in negotiations over future funding of procurement transparency tool
  • Sources believe the cost may be shifted to NHS providers
  • Software was highlighted in Carter review as an important part of the efficiency drive

The future of price comparison tool that has helped NHS trusts generate significant savings is uncertain, HSJ has learned.

Sources have told HSJ it is not clear who will fund the purchasing price index benchmarking (PPIB) tool, with NHS Improvement currently in negotiations over the software’s future.

This is despite the Department of Health and PPIB’s providers AdviseInc only being halfway through their two-year contract, which expires in July 2018. 

NHSI said the tool would ”continue to capitalise on the NHS’s purchasing power”.

PPIB was launched last year after being highlighted as a key vehicle for making efficiencies outlined in the Carter review.

The system aims to help trusts identify where they spend more on products and suppliers compared to their peers.

PPIB is used by 156 trusts, and a spokesman for AdviseInc said “more trusts are joining every month”.

In July 2016, trusts were told the tool would be provided for free as it would be financed by NHS Improvement. 

The tool was expected to be initially run for two years, according to NHSI; while the Carter review envisaged that the tool would be developed into a “national analytics and reporting system so… for the first time this will provide the NHS with a single national reporting system on purchase prices”.

The AdviseInc spokesman said in the first three weeks of PPIB’s launch, three trusts saved enough money with three suppliers to pay for the whole of the first year of the tool across the NHS.

The index provides price transparency for billions of pounds worth of NHS provider spending and highlights variances in prices paid for the same product from the same supplier across several hundred thousand products, the spokesman said.

But, as the contract with AdviseInc enters its second year, HSJ understands NHSI is in negotiations over the future implementation of the tool.

Contingencies are in place during negotiations to ensure all providers that have access to the tool can keep using it.

Procurement sector sources told HSJ one potential scenario is that NHS trusts will be asked or told to pay for PPIB themselves.

The cost of paying for the tool at trust-level is estimated to be around £10,000, however procurement sources told HSJ there would be a danger that trusts – which are already under huge pressure to save money – will not commit to funding it and stop using the software.

Additionally it is thought some trusts may object to being forced to pay for a tool they were told would be provided free of charge by the centre, the sources said.

When approached for comment the Department of Health directed HSJ to NHS Improvement.

NHSI did not respond to questions over how much the tool had cost, how much funding would be required to run PPIB in the future, and how long it would be funded for.

An NHSI spokesman said: “The tool has been a huge success in its first year.

“The PPIB tool has quickly become a core part of local procurement teams and will continue to capitalise on the NHS’s purchasing power to help us consistently get the lowest prices.”

The spokesman for AdviseInc confirmed its contract with the DH for PPIB provision expires in July 2018.

He said: “The tool has been well received by trusts and departments… PPIB is now one of the core tools for local, regional and national savings work, plus it feeds a number of other areas such as Model Hospital and MyNHS.”