• “Product assurance” unit to be part of new NHS procurement body
  • DH director says new team will be “the voice of the clinicians”
  • First of 11 procurement “category towers” goes live on 1 October

Products bought for NHS trusts are set to be subject to greater scrutiny for clinical value as part of a major overhaul of NHS procurement.

Howard Blackith, director of the Department of Health’s procurement transformation programme, said a “product assurance” unit will form part of the new managing body overseeing much of the procurement and supply management of goods carried out on behalf of the NHS.

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The NHS spends £5.7bn on goods a year

His comments at the UK Health Show yesterday were part of an update on the progress of the DH’s “future operating model” for procurement.

Central to the new model are 11 “category towers”, which will effectively be organisations tasked with buying goods for the NHS.

Mr Blackith said the organisations running the towers will be required to clinically evaluate goods, and their result will then be “assured” by the new product assurance team.

This team forms part of the “intelligent client coordinator” – the new body that will oversee the towers.

This builds on the work by the NHS Clinical Evaluation Team, which reviews everyday healthcare consumables used by the health service, in search of the best products.

“The product assurance team will operate across all the category towers,” Mr Blackith said.

“That unit is there to make sure we have clinical governance and oversight. In that respect it’s the voice of the clinicians in this whole piece.”

He said the CET, formed in 2016, had developed a “robust process and pathway” to get products clinically evaluated.

Mr Blackith said the product assurance unit would also make sure the procurement towers do not just focus on driving prices down.

“There are qualitative and quantitative measures, which allow the category towers to seek out innovative products,” he added.

“For example, unit price might change an amount but actually, if we look at the possibility to reduce infection rates and re-admission rates, etcetera, those parameters will be just as important in terms of the product selection.”

The NHS spends £5.7bn on goods a year, but only 40 per cent of this goes through national provider NHS Supply Chain.

The DH hopes the future operating model, which replaces NHS Supply Chain with the towers, will be the vehicle for 80 per cent of NHS procurement – ending some of the unwarranted variation highlighted in the Carter review.

Six of the category towers will procure medical goods, while the other five will deal with non-medical products.

The DH is set to announce the winning bidders to provide the medical towers next month, HSJ understands.

The only organisation to confirm that it has submitted bids is the NHS Collaborative Procurement Partnership, which consists of four regional procurement hubs across England: NHS Commercial Solutions; NHS North of England Commercial Procurement Collaborative; East of England NHS Collaborative Procurement Hub; and NHS London Procurement Partnership.

The hubs have bid to run six towers, the East of England CPH annual report said.

HSJ understands DHL, which operates the NHS Supply Chain contract, is another bidder. Oxford Academic Health Science Network are also involved in a bid.

The most valuable tower – “large diagnostic capital devices” – is worth an estimated £30m.

The first of the 11 towers, office solutions, goes live on Sunday. This tower was awarded to Crown Commercial Service without competition.

A DH spokeswoman said: “From go live CCS will operate the existing NHS Supply Chain contracts, as well as its own direct office supplies agreement, without any immediate change to the supplier profile.

“Existing CCS frameworks for office supplies will be deployed as part of the future operating model, and these are enabled for use by all NHS organisations, including primary care.

“It is CCS’s intention to develop new solutions for the total NHS market over the lifetime of its operation of office solutions.”

Contracts have also been issued by the DH, as part of the future operating model, for providers to run IT, and transactional and logistics services.