The government is being urged to slash the number of procurement frameworks as part of its drive to reform the way the health service buys goods and services.

The call came in an appeal to NHS “procurement champion” Lord Carter from industry suppliers and NHS buyers.

Peter Harrison, managing director of Siemens Healthcare UK, told HSJ that while procurement frameworks had their place, their recent proliferation had been “disruptive”.

Supplier overheads had been pushed up by frameworks that aimed to attract “broad, non-specific and [an] overlapping number of purchasing trusts”, he said. “[This] in turn adds to cost and dilutes the aggregated purchasing power of the buyers,” he said.

Frameworks also presented a “big issue… regarding procurement transparency”, Mr Harrison added.

“Unlike the usual EU tender process for high value procurement, there is no visibility of business conducted via these frameworks,” he said.

Nishan Sunthares, commercial director of the Association of British Healthcare Industries which represents medical technology companies, agreed that transparency was critical in contracting arrangements. His members had greater concerns about the lack of volume commitment which such frameworks achieved.

“Frameworks do not give the market a volume commitment,” he said.

“If the NHS comes to industry with a volume commitment, this gives certainty and allows industry to offer their highest possible value proposition, which could mean best price.”

Simon Walsh, chairman of the Health Care Supply Association for NHS procurement managers, said the buying regime had become “fragmented” by “too many” procurement frameworks. “There needs to be a step-change if we are going to get a more structured NHS procurement system and some organisations will need to back away from doing individual frameworks,” he said. “We cannot continue to dilute the NHS’s purchasing power in this way.”

Buying frameworks are designed to cut down the amount of administration for individual trusts by going to a pre-selected and accredited group of providers for certain agreed products.

In addition to the sector’s main procurement body NHS Supply Chain, regional procurement bodies, such as the London Procurement Partnership, operate framework contracts. A number of private sector providers also run significant structures.

Lord Carter told HSJ in June that there was a “very confused landscape” in NHS procurement and it is an issue which needs addressing.