NHS hospitals often pay more than they need to when buying basic supplies, the National Audit Office has reported. A combination of inadequate information and fragmented purchasing means that NHS hospitals’ procurement of consumables is poor value for money. The NAO estimates that at least £500 million a year could be saved by the NHS on its spending on consumables, and potentially much more for some products.
Today’s report points out that with no central control over Foundation Trusts, the Department cannot mandate more efficient procurement practices. Responsibility to demonstrate value for money in procurement falls upon the management of individual trusts. The price that trusts pay for the same items varies widely. The average variation between the highest and lowest unit price paid was 10 per cent.
Some trusts are not getting value for money because they are buying many different types of the same product. For example, trusts bought 21 different types of A4 paper, 652 types of medical gloves and 1,751 different cannulas. There is also a large variation between trusts: one bought 13 different types of glove, whilst another bought 177 different types.
There are unnecessary administrative costs because many trusts make multiple small purchase orders. Taking just four items bought in high volumes, around £7 million in administration costs could be saved each year if the number of orders were reduced to the level achieved by the best performing 25 per cent of trusts.
Hospital trusts have complete freedom to decide what they buy and how they buy it. They can use regional procurement hubs or NHS Supply Chain or they can buy direct from suppliers. The limited evidence available suggests that new contracts are frequently being established which overlap and duplicate each other, incurring unnecessary administrative costs. There is no national performance framework for Hubs which would enable comparisons to be drawn between them or an assessment of their potential optimal performance to be made..