Bridging the gap between procurement and clinicians: The importance of clinical procurement

16 March 2023 by Mat Oram

By Liam Horkan, Head of Clinical Procurement at East Suffolk & North Essex NHS Foundation Trust

In healthcare, every patient interaction involves the use of a product, piece of equipment or service that has been subject to a procurement exercise at national, regional or local levels. But often, the way in which NHS procurement operates across the system can create confusion for end users. It is the role of procurement teams to engage our clinical teams in understanding how commercial activity supports the delivery of patient care, particularly where we are looking to achieve wider benefits such as improvements in outcomes, safety, sustainability or enhancements in patient pathways.

The role of data is essential to inform and guide discussions around procurement decision making and with a move towards projects spanning integrated care systems, the ability to collect, collate, analyse and present that in an understandable and meaningful way will bring new challenges for the procurement community.

As we look to identify efficiency opportunities across multiple providers, we will need to work with innovative procurement technology suppliers, such as AdviseInc, that specialise in making sense of procurement data and simplifying the vast amounts of information being collected and managed in each care setting. Undoubtedly, the value NHS procurement teams gain using procurement data and analytics more effectively is vast. To give you an example, as part of a regional productivity programme, East Suffolk & North Essex NHS Foundation Trust is utilising the standardised approach to data collection to support their collaborative work plans for 23/24. The technology is also being used to identify price changes and measure their impact so we can forecast, plan and budget more effectively.

How we use that data to engage our clinical teams as part of a procurement project is key>and clinical procurement roles across the NHS are translating data in a meaningful way that enriches clinical conversations about improving quality and care.

If your organisation does not employ a dedicated clinical procurement specialist, bridging this gap may seem like a challenge, but it is a challenge that you can overcome.

The role of clinicians working in procurement is not new but over the last 10 years, we have seen a recognition that this can bridge a gap between commercial activity, budget holder responsibility and the impact these decisions have on delivering care. By embedding procurement into day-to-day clinical activity and educating clinical teams to understand how procurement can support them, we are able to then support value based decision making where unit price is only one part of the conversation.

Working collaboratively with clinical teams and being able to present data in a variety of ways enables us to work through a plan where we can find solutions and consensus that works for everyone. That’s what is different about clinical procurement; you are putting clinical staff and patients first, before working your way back to identify cost-saving opportunities.

Naturally, bringing procurement teams and clinicians together educates each party on the challenges and nuances of their respective roles. By presenting the information in an accessible way, clinical staff will benefit from learning about how data is collected, as well as external considerations such as sustainability and the impact inflation has on procurement decision-making. At the same time, procurement teams can learn about the types of products being used on the frontline, and what clinicians look for and value in those products. Working collaboratively in this way creates a level of visibility, helping procurement teams appreciate where they are spending money, and the areas in which they can and can’t make productivity, efficiency and cost savings.

The next step is involving the patient. Before any significant decision is made, procurement teams should consider the impact it may have on patient experience. Will product A negatively impact the quality of patient care? If the answer is assumed ‘no’, and a new product is introduced, a well run procurement team will then follow up with patients, rather than presuming that everything is alright.

Of course, we can also look to benchmark with colleagues across the country to understand how care is being delivered in different settings, but it is important to remember that every organisation is unique in the challenges it faces. As such, it is essential to make your clinicians and patients central to procurement decision-making. A good barometer for how effectively you are running your procurement team, is whether or not you are blamed for the perceived failure of a specific product. Why? Because procurement should never make decisions in isolation, they should be made in consensus across your organisation.

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