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Small changes, big differences

National Procurement

NHS Scotland

National Procurement is a branch of NHS Scotland that procures products for all Scottish Health Boards. Gill Bowler, Clinical Procurement Manager at NHS Lothian, explains how this works in practise.

“I'm a registered nurse with experience in theatre and A&E. My procurement career began as an adviser for theatres and anaesthetics in Lothian Health Board, and now I procure products for the entire Board, which is the second largest in Scotland.

“The Board has over 26,000 staff, eight acute hospitals, 26 primary care hospitals and over 150 GP practices, dental practices and community health care centres. I work with clinicians from all specialities in both acute and primary care, and with non-clinicians, including estates, domestic services and finance.

“Put simply, my role is to advise clinicians on procurement and how they can get involved in the process. I advise procurement colleagues on what products they should be buying, and support staff to manage the transition between new products.

National Procurement

“Prior to 2007, procurement was achieved on a local level and driven mostly by clinical preference. In 2007, the Scottish Government set up National Procurement (NP), a new branch of NHS Scotland that coordinates procurement for every Scottish Board.

“NP was established as part of wider procurement reform across the Scottish Public Sector, to ensure best value is achieved. Since its inception, NHS Scotland has saved over £150 million.

"NHS Lothian engages with NP through the Commodity Advisory Panel (CAP), which allows us to share our professional expertise. CAP members assist with product evaluation by setting strict criteria which ensures products are fit for purpose. This criteria or ‘score’ is combined with a similar rating for product cost, which gives an overall product ‘score’.

“There is a mandate on Scotland’s Health Boards to obtain products through NP contracts, so it's vital that our clinicians are involved in this process. All NHS Scotland Health Boards attend NP meetings and feedback on particular contracts.

“NP consists of three work streams: contracting, logistics and e-procurement, which work together to source, standardise and rationalise the best products at the best price, with the ultimate aim of obtaining one price for all Health Boards across Scotland.

“The contracting team run the tender, contract and supplier management process; logistics store the items and manage delivery; and e-procurement maintain a catalogue, which means each product can be ordered centrally.

Clinical experience

“I have been involved in the process from the very beginning, and I established our current system to better involve clinician staff in the CAP process.

“Clinical experience is fundamental to the decision making process and our clinical staff regularly attend meetings with NP. The government mandate requires us to procure through NP where possible, so it is in our interest to use this as a forum in which clinicians share information and advise on legislation, guidelines and best practice.

“Although my team sits within the Procurement Department of NHS Lothian, we work closely with clinical colleagues – a relationship that I have formalised in my role as Clinical Procurement Manager.

“Much of our work focuses on product safety. Sharps safety, for example, has improved across NHS Lothian since the introduction of new devices which comply with current legislation. We also work with health and safety teams to monitor needlestick incidents, and a recent project on tissue viability has reduced the length of time patients with complex wounds stay in hospital.

“The standardisation and rationalisation of products, at both Board and national level, frees up staff time which would otherwise have been spent learning new products. This is in line with the Government’s Releasing Time to Care programme, which is improving the patient experience across the whole of Scotland.

“This approach also ensures staff work within the remit of the Scottish Patient Safety Programme (SPSP) - a unique initiative which is revolutionising the safety of health care.

Work with clinical users

“My advice to procurement specialists is to work with clinical users – build relationships and make yourself available at all times.

“I offer to meet clinical colleagues in their workspace at a time convenient to them, to advise on processes and establish good working relationships. We’re all working towards the same goal, to ensure products are fit for both staff and patients.

“I urge staff to talk to their procurement teams and tell them what you want. We support innovation at all times, although we accept that we cannot have standardisation on all products.

“I think there is a place for more Clinical Procurement Specialists in NHS Scotland. This would strengthen the important link between procurement teams, clinical staff and suppliers.”