Prioritising procurement: How BWS Partnership is managing the transition to integrated care

01 February 2022 by Mat Oram

Rob Webb, Director of Procurement, Bath and North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire Partnership (BSW Partnership), outlines some of the challenges faced by regional procurement leads, and the importance ensuring procurement is firmly on the agenda.

As I and many of my colleagues know, the move towards an integrated model of care is challenging, and while each integrated care system (ICS) has its own unique set of circumstances, many of us share the same frustrations. For regional procurement leads, with a greater number of sites to manage, our most pressing concerns stem from a lack of visibility and control across the territories in which we operate. Afterall, it is simply unrealistic to know exactly what is going on at individual hospital sites across an ICS all of the time. So, how can we manage the transition, to ensure that we can continue to maximise the value of our procurement data? 

Despite juggling the usual challenges that result from a lack of staff and financial resource, in my former role as Head of Procurement of Salisbury NHS Trust, I was much more visible; people could see the impact of my work because I could identify and solve problems quickly. However, following the advent of ICSs — which redefined NHS strategy to focus on joint work for matters relating to procurement, supply chain and commercial strategy — I became the Director of Procurement for Bath Swindon and Wiltshire Partnership. I soon realised the scale of the challenge in front of me. 

As I began to integrate the various teams across the region, refine their workflow practices, and put a structure in place that ensured that they functioned as a single unit, my day-to-day work became much more laborious. This was compounded by the competing priorities that exist across multiple hospital sites, as well as the complexities of dealing with more than one Director of Finance. Keen to find a solution, I reached out to Mat Oram, the CEO and Co-founder of AdviseInc, a company we have been working with for a number of years to discuss how they could help me make sense of the vast amount of procurement data within our ICS. 

AdviseInc provides its Procurement Dashboard Plus service to Bath and North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire ICS, and they are a company that I have learned to trust and respect, so it seemed only natural to call on their support as we navigated the difficulties presented by the changing health and care supply chain landscape. As our conversations progressed, we began speaking about developing a solution that did more than price-benchmarking, and explored the possibilities of cutting and manipulating data more effectively across an entire region. The end result was the idea for a new product called Control Tower, which will provide procurement teams with the insight they need to manage finance, catalogues, contract databases and inventory management data. 

Once AdviseInc developed the concept for Control Tower, it became pivotal to our strategy and we agreed to work with them on the development of the project. We saw it as an essential solution for driving efficiency and releasing the amount of time spent completing mundane tasks. Of course, not every ICS will have the luxury of doing this, but there are some practical steps you can take to help you manage the transition to this new model of care.  

From my experience, it is critical that ICSs procurement leads put a clear strategy in place, which reflects the clinical strategy across any given region. For us, emphasis was placed on the necessity of data and analysis. Across the NHS, there is a good level of understanding and competency when it comes to procurement data, but more often than not there is a lack of resource and knowledge needed to drill down into the information, manipulate it and present in a meaningful way. This was made patently clear in our strategy, helping us to sell our vision for procurement and put it further up on the agenda with our Directors of Finance.

As many of my colleagues will know, procurement is often overlooked as a priority, at trust and ICS level, so it is important to be able to push the conversation and back it up with something tangible. To do so, we began actively engaging with our Directors of Finance by hosting monthly meetings to discuss procurement transformation, which resulted in greater buy-in. Admittedly, this will be easier for some than it will be for others, and naturally during the pandemic there has been less of an appetite to explore different ways of utilising information and data, with more focus placed on operational processes and sourcing personal protective equipment (PPE). As such, for many of us, a significant part of our role will be to ensure that procurement stays on the agenda by keeping the conversation open, and helping to drive action across the wider health and care landscape in the areas it is needed most.

As outlined at the top of this piece, each ICS has its own unique set of circumstances, and each procurement lead will undoubtedly come up with their own way of tackling the challenges they face. But for those on a similar path to us, with no interest in having a single finance system, Control Tower is the perfect solution: not only will it give you the transparency to make better and informed decisions, it will make you much more fluid and focused as a procurement service. It all starts with a conversation, and a willingness to make the argument for maximising the value of data. 

We’re always happy to share our experiences, good and bad, and so if you’re interested in our journey, I encourage you to get in touch.

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