For many trusts, outsourcing procurement will be driven by the need to meet the government's 3 per cent efficiency target but Milton Keynes General trust had other pressing concerns when it recently awarded a contract to Drager Medical to manage its electro-medical equipment procurement.

Geoff Callan, its facilities director, says though the trust has identified some savings that may come from the deal, for example through the development of an equipment 'library', the driving force behind the contract is maintaining service quality. The trust is having difficulties recruiting these specialised staff in an area with only 1.5 per cent unemployment, he explains.

'We are not getting rid of the department - we can't recruit people into the vacancies there. We are looking for the quality to improve, with Drager providing the maintenance we cannot offer because we haven't got the staff. We will get more than we can currently provide within the same cost and the users will get a more efficient service, ' he adds.

The fixed-price contract will run from 1 April 2001 for three years initially, with the possibility of an extension for another two years.

Mr Callan says that outsourcing was a major exercise - it took 18 months - but he believes it will be worth the effort. 'We will have one-stop management, one bill and one invoice, ' he says. 'It will be quite a large culture shift. Drager will be managing all our electro-medical contracts and the procurement of contracts will fall within its remit. It will also be maintaining all the equipment but it will not be procuring new equipment. The trust will continue to do that, though we may take advice from Drager.'