• Major shake-up of NHS procurement ahead
  • New model aims to tackle £10bn of annual spend on goods and services
  • Trade body warns ‘change cannot be imposed’ 

The NHS’s buying power for goods and services worth up to £10bn could be taken away from individual trusts and placed in central teams, under proposals leaked to HSJ.

Currently NHS trusts have complete autonomy over how they buy items in categories such as IT, estates, people and corporate services and transport.

But the proposals envisage a “centre-led approach” which would see national teams set up to create buying strategies for individual categories.

The teams will also be tasked with implementing the category strategies at local level, using technology to automate transactions, and focusing on logistics and supply chain issues.

A spokesman for the Health Care Supply Association (HCSA), which represents NHS procurement staff, said there is an “important role” for trust-based procurement staff, and warned “change cannot be imposed – it needs to be co-delivered”.

The plans have been drawn up by consultancy firm Deloitte with help from a small selection of NHS procurement professionals.

It comes after NHS Improvement began a programme called “procurement target operating model” which aims to make trusts better at buying goods and services not covered by the NHS Supply Chain. HSJ revealed earlier this month that the NHSI’s programme’s former leader now works for Deloitte.

NHSI told HSJ the model’s blueprint has not yet been completed and that it would be shared when it was finished.

Work on implementing the blueprint was supposed to start in April. However, NHSI told HSJ it has not yet awarded a further contract to Deloitte for help with this – as was the plan according to tender documents leaked to HSJ last year. The regulator refused to say why the programme is delayed.

The draft blueprint leaked to HSJ reveals proposed details which would mean a major shake-up of NHS procurement. Proposals include:

  • Building nationally led category teams who will develop future NHS buying strategies, starting with the ICT category (worth around £1bn annually);
  • Design and implement automated processes with a small number of procurement teams, before “industrialising the solution(s) for national roll-out”;
  • Develop a “world-class” supply chain analytics and insight tool; and
  • Creating a new “talent management strategy” to boost staff retention and development.

According to the blueprint, each major category of spend will be managed by a single category management team, which will be accountable for “delivering strategy, pipeline and project execution, and savings delivery”.

The blueprint does not give any details of how the model, if implemented, would be enforced across the NHS.

But it acknowledges that “traditionally local procurement activities may shift to [a] larger scale” which means local roles becoming more focused on “change management, demand management and business/clinical partnering”.

However, staff will be freed up from “repetitive and mundane tasks” by the NHS embracing automation and robotics technologies, it said.

A timeline included in the blueprint states the priorities for the next six months include putting in place a “long-term leadership and governance structure”, and to agree funding and resourcing for implementation.

A spokesman for the HCSA said: “We strongly believe there is an important role for trust-based procurement staff as evidenced by the work undertaken on EU Exit and local implementation of national initiatives.

“Staff who have worked at trust level are proving increasingly attractive to regional and national procurement providers as they seek to influence change.

“HCSA members have been involved in PTOM sessions and have been a strong advocate of ensuring that future organisational models embed a key role for locally-based staff.

“History tells us that change cannot be imposed - it needs to be co-delivered.”

HSJ understands Deloitte and NHS Improvement gave details of their plans to trusts at “regional roadshows” last week.

A further update is expected at today’s HCSA conference.