• Nationally contracted products programme has agreed prices for only two product lines
  • Third product delayed after problems with contracting process
  • NHS Improvement say programme delivery is “optimised” to reflect changes in the market
  • Chiefs aim to roll out more than 100 products across 14 categories by end of 2017

A high-profile programme to save millions of pounds on procurement by buying commonplace products centrally has fallen behind its original schedule.

NHS Improvement is understood to believe the nationally contracted products scheme, is “broadly on track” and that delivery has “optimised” in response to changes in “market conditions”. 

Only two centrally-purchased types of product have been made available to NHS providers so far via the programme - the regulator originally forecast 12 product lines would be available by now when the NCP launched last year.

The NCP was highlighted in Next Steps on the Five Year Forward View as a way of using the NHS’s national buying power to make vital savings.

The aim of the NCP is to reduce product and price variation by agreeing deals for certain products on behalf of all providers with a minimal number of suppliers.

In September 2016 trusts were asked to commit to the NCP, and NHSI published a list of 12 categories of products which would be made available to trusts at nationally-agreed prices “by early 2017” – according to its director of operational productivity Jeremy Marlow. 

These products included basic medical equipment such as examination gloves, patient dry wipes, syringes, and needles.

In its September letter to trusts NHSI said those products account for around £100m of trusts’ annual expenditure, and the NCP team anticipated savings of up to 25 per cent subject to market circumstances.

But so far only two categories of the 12 listed have been rolled out; namely couch rolls and blunt needle products.

This has saved the NHS £2m so far, an NHSI spokesman said.

A third category of products, leur slip syringes – which was on the original list – was due to be rolled out this summer, but this was delayed because NHSI was not able to legally award the contract because of problems with the process.

An NHS Improvement source with knowledge of the programme told HSJ: “The nature of an effective category management process is to ensure that the programme delivery is optimised to reflect market conditions, supplier engagement, contracts and savings opportunities, which can have an effect on specific product procurement timings.

“Macroeconomic factors such as currency fluctuations can also determine the optimum time for a particular procurement and indeed, for one category, we have made the decision to delay in order that we compete at the best moment.”

Products for the NCP are identified by NHS Business Services Authority and NHS Supply Chain based on advice from a Department of Health-funded clinical evaluation team.

Contracts are then awarded to suppliers, with NHSI having used E-auctions so far to determine winning bids for the couch rolls and blunt needle products.

NHSI has “evaluated and standardised” 13 products, which was in line with its expectations, but not all the originally forecast products have made it to the final list due to “the robust evaluation process” – the spokesman told HSJ.

The regulator said 120 products within a further 14 categories are scheduled to be rolled out by the end of December this year.

These products include toilet rolls, bedpans, double adjustable crutches, scissor clamps, surgical face masks, and trays.

HSJ understands this is expected to save £4m. The NHSI spokesman said more categories of products will be rolled out as the programme continues next year, unlocking more of the targeted savings.

Trusts’ use of NCP products is monitored by NHS Improvement. Trusts which do not use NCP products will be contacted by NHSI.

  •  Article updated at 3.30pm on 28 July following clarification from NHS Improvement