On reading the papers the other morning, I couldn’t help but raise a smile at the sweeping headlines that the NHS was going to implement a ‘price comparison website’ to prevent different NHS units paying hugely different prices for similar items.
The usual example provided is surgical gloves. Why on earth could there be such a difference in surgical glove pricing?
From extensive NHS experience, it is fair to say that I have witnessed first hand some of the rationale for this! Reasons went from the ridiculous to the sublime. I witnessed one very senior consultant demand different gloves to everyone else ‘so that it is obvious that I have the authority to order my own gloves’ to the quite reasonable requirement for non-latex provision to account for those with allergies. Notwithstanding the fact that hands do not all come in the same size…..oh no! So you then end up with latex/non-latex/small/medium/large/white/blue…..the variations are almost endless! Does that excuse manufacturers charging different rates to neighbouring hospitals?
This isn’t just a ‘supplies’ issue. The NHS is surely the largest buying organisation (combined) in the UK? There is estate management; facilities management; supplies; drugs budgets; consultants (management that is…just to irritate the medical team with a series of graphs), the list is indeed almost endless. It is this endless list that seems to be causing the greatest of concern within government upon the realisation that really, the NHS is not (as some possibly believe) a gratis service running on thin air, hopes, dreams & kindness, but one, which to work effectively and within budget requires to be like a well oiled wheel.
A new committee has been set up to deal with the implementation of these new initiatives, headed up by Dr Dan Poulter (Health Minister) who quite rightly states:-
“We must end the scandalous situation where one hospital spends hundreds of thousands more than another hospital just down the road on something as simple as rubber gloves or syringes, simply because they haven’t got the right systems in place to ensure value for money for local patients”
What will be of most interest to us will be how this ‘price comparison’ will sit well alongside EU Procurement Directives. There is no doubt a steep learning curve for a wide number of teams within the NHS following this latest piece of news relating to streamlining the purchasing function. Something we will watch closely while of course trying to ease the burden for as many of our clients who will be impacted by this as possible.